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Police forces are adopting a new algorithm to predict police misconduct

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Police departments across the country are adopting a new algorithm that claims to predict police misconduct.

Created by scientists from the White House’s Police Data Initiative, the sophisticated system can foresee hostile interactions between the police and civilians. The new algorithm offers preventive measures to combat everything from impolite traffic stops to fatal shootings, reports FiveThirtyEight.

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The system has already been tested to glowing results in a pilot phase by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Now, the Los Angeles County Sheriff and the Knoxville Police have also signed on to use the data in order to develop their own systems, with several other agencies also conveying their interest.

In order to create the early warning system, researchers from the University of Chicago examined over a decade’s worth of data supplied by the Charlotte police regarding its official activities. The team found that the best predictor of hostile interactions was an officer’s background in the force. Cops with a history of antagonistic behavior in a given year were most likely to see that pattern of behavior continue in the following year.

The researchers claim that their system has not been created to simply identify and intimidate police officers. Given the risk of upsetting a police force or invading an officer’s privacy, the algorithm could end up facing its fair share of detractors. The Police Data Initiative team assures the authorities that their methodology seeks to prevent misconduct rather than seek retribution.

Aside from determining the future, an officer’s past also turned out to be the key to unlocking any psychological damage inflicted upon him or her. For example, cops that had dealt with stressful incidents (including domestic violence and suicide cases) had an increased likelihood of participating in separate hostile interactions on the same day.

During the test phase, the new algorithm ended up flagging fewer officers than the prior system that was in place at the Charlotte police — by half. Yet it still managed to correctly detect more of the cops that would be involved in adverse interactions in the following year.

Many police departments already use existing early warning systems (including Miami, Minneapolis, and New Orleans). Additionally, the NYPD’s COMSTAT accountability management system has been adopted by law enforcement agencies both in the U.S. and abroad.

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