As machine-learning algorithms, big data methods and artificial intelligence are increasingly used in the toolkit of U.S. law enforcement agencies, many are worrying that the existing biases of the criminal justice system are simply being automated – and deepened.
Police departments are increasingly relying on predictive algorithms to figure out where to deploy their forces by blanketing cities with a mesh of human-based and computerized surveillance technology including, but not limited to, data-mining, facial recognition, and predictive policing programs.
This comes despite the flaw in such tools. Facial recognition software have often held a bias toward darker-skinned individuals, including mistaking members of Congress for criminal suspects. In essence, racial profiling has become automated while allowing law enforcement agencies to claim that the computers are race-neutral tools.
In Los Angeles County, for example, all 47 police agencies are plugged into a biometrics system maintained by NEC Corporation of America, which claims to have the capacity to incorporate 15 million subjects into its facial recognition platform – giving a powerful boost to a wide-ranging suite of technology including closed-circuit cameras, StingRay phone trackers, and earthquake prediction software that identifies alleged crime “hot spots” based on historic data.
And now, courtrooms are increasingly relying on criminal risk assessment algorithms, according to a new report from MIT Technology Review.
Under the guise of trimming the number of prisoners while processing defendants efficiently, prisoners are being assigned recidivism scores that estimate to what extent it is likely that a perpetrator may or may not reoffend.
As author Karen Hao explains:
“A judge then factors that score into a myriad of decisions that can determine what type of rehabilitation services particular defendants should receive, whether they should be held in jail before trial, and how severe their sentences should be. A low score paves the way for a kinder fate. A high score does precisely the opposite.
The logic for using such algorithmic tools is that if you can accurately predict criminal behavior, you can allocate resources accordingly, whether for rehabilitation or for prison sentences. In theory, it also reduces any bias influencing the process, because judges are making decisions on the basis of data-driven recommendations and not their gut.
You may have already spotted the problem. Modern-day risk assessment tools are often driven by algorithms trained on historical crime data.”
The problem is that by relying on historical crime data, the communities that have been historically targeted by law enforcement – such as low-income and national, ethnic or religious minorities – are at risk of receiving higher recidivism scores. Hao continues:
“So if you feed it historical crime data, it will pick out the patterns associated with crime. But those patterns are statistical correlations—nowhere near the same as causations. If an algorithm found, for example, that low income was correlated with high recidivism, it would leave you none the wiser about whether low income actually caused crime. But this is precisely what risk assessment tools do: they turn correlative insights into causal scoring mechanisms.”
“As a result, the algorithm could amplify and perpetuate embedded biases and generate even more bias-tainted data to feed a vicious cycle,” Hao adds, noting that the proprietary nature of risk assessment algorithms renders any sort of accountability impossible.
In notes from the Data for Black Lives conference held earlier this month, Law for Black Lives executive director Marbre Stahly-Butts lays out the precise danger of new data-driven approaches to criminal justice:
“Data-driven risk assessment is a way to sanitize and legitimize oppressive systems … Demands of the community to change the system are being ‘met’ with an increased use of technology which actually lead to more over-surveillance of minority communities.”
In an age when the data industry has become entirely financialized, Big Data-driven policing has become a lucrative business. And while the economic gulf widens between poor communities and the one percent, with schools being defunded and health care growing less accessible for the poor, the surveillance industry and private jail industry are seeing a windfall of taxpayer dollars.
Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Video Shows Taliban Taking Joyride in Captured US Blackhawk Helicopter
The rapid fall of Kabul to the Taliban has resulted in a number of surreal sights – from footage of the Islamist group’s fighters exercising at a presidential gym to clips of combatants having a great time on bumper cars at the local fun park.
However, a new video of Taliban members seemingly testing their skills in the cockpit of a commandeered UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter shows the chilling extent to which U.S. wares have fallen into the hands of a group it spent trillions of dollars, and exhaustive resources, to stamp out.
In the new video, shared on Twitter, the front-line utility helicopter can be seen taxiing on the ground at Kandahar Airport in southeastern Afghanistan, moving along the tarmac. It is unclear who exactly was sitting in the cockpit, and the Black Hawk cannot be seen taking off or flying.
It is unlikely that the Taliban have any combatants who are sufficiently trained to fly a UH-60 Black Hawk.
The helicopter, which carries a $6 million price tag, is just a small part of the massive haul that fell into the militant group’s hands after the country’s central government seemingly evaporated on Aug. 14 amid the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops.
Some 200,000 firearms, 20,000 Humvees and hundreds of aircraft financed by Washington for the now-defunct Afghan Army are believed to be in the possession of the Taliban.
The firearms include M24 sniper rifles, M18 assault weapons, anti-tank missiles, automatic grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
Taliban fighters in the elite Badri 313 Brigade have been seen in propaganda images showing off in uniforms and wielding weaponry meant for the special forces units of the Afghan Army.
The U.S. is known to have purchased 42,000 light tactical vehicles, 9,000 medium tactical vehicles and over 22,000 Humvees between 2003 and 2016.
The White House remains unclear on how much weaponry has fallen into Taliban hands, with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitting last week that the U.S. lacks a “clear picture of just how much missing $83 billion of military inventory” the group has.