The idea of police predicting crime in order to better prevent it has been a trippy — and morally bankrupt — sci-fi plotline for years. But now a program in Australia is turning this Philip K Dickian nightmare into a frightening reality.
A new report from the Youth Justice Coalition takes a deep look into the New South Wales Police’s Suspect Targeting Management Plan (STMP), which is a risk-assessment tool that uses an algorithm to determine how likely someone is to commit a crime. The program is meant to prevent future crimes from occurring by putting the focus on repeat offenders or even anyone who the algorithm determines might do something illegal.
STMP has obviously generated a lot of controversy for its preemptive crime fighting measures, especially when people discovered that the algorithm it uses can mark kids as young as 11. Said algorithm is also stirring up some divisiveness, as it determines how likely someone is to commit a crime and then labels them into the categories of extreme risk, high risk, medium risk, or low risk. This troubling development is only made worse when it was discovered that the criteria for what exactly makes a person an “extreme risk” is not currently available to the public.
For someone to be tracked by STMP, they must be “nominated” by police. And, unsurprisingly, a disproportionate number of people nominated have been younger than 18. Considering that the police have begun using the STMP program to justify suspicion instead of “reasonable grounds to suspect”, being labeled by this program could immediately make someone’s life a living hell, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. In one very troubling case, a 16-year-old was stopped and searched by police because STMP concluded that “young people who get on the last carriage of a train and wear Nautica are known to commit criminal damages (graffiti).”
Fortunately, the Youth Justice Coalition is already taking steps to prevent this futuristic police computer from harassing any more kids. The report from the group called for a review of the STMP by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, which is an independent group dedicated to making sure police conduct is up to standards. They also requested that the NSW Police discontinue using STMP for people under 18.