"Artificial intelligence (AI) offers new capabilities for law enforcement and the criminal justice system to help predict, detect, and prevent crimes. As discussed in previous SafeGrowth blogs like "Can AI Make Neighborhoods Safer?" and "Bias and AI - What it Means for Crime Prevention", AI tools such as predictive policing algorithms, facial recognition, and risk assessment systems are increasingly being adopted. However, the use of AI also raises important ethical questions. In this blog, I’ll explore some key pros and cons of using AI for crime prevention.
In summary, while AI offers promising capabilities to enhance public safety, we must carefully weigh the benefits against the risks to civil rights and liberties. As argued in previous SafeGrowth posts, policymakers should promote development of ethical AI systems with transparency, oversight, and impact evaluations to ensure AI prevents crime without infringing on human freedoms."
REAL PERSON, PLEASE
by Greg Saville
I'm back - the living, breathing, thinking, flesh and blood, me!
AI wrote the above SafeGrowth blog. Every word! I asked the artificial intelligence platform, claude by Anthropic, to write a 600-word blog on the role of AI in crime prevention. I asked it to reference prior blogs on this topic. I also asked it to frame the blog using the pros and cons.
The above text is the result. What do you think? What do I think?
It did take considerable time for me to edit this. The basic prose was fine, but the fact-checking took a while. In short, it got some stuff wrong.
Claude by Anthropic sums up some of the basic points nicely. I was encouraged it did not hide the truth of its own dangers like the erosion of civil liberties and privacy, poor transparency, and diminishing human discretion. These are not small matters and AI sees no reason to avoid the politics and critiques of itself. Not yet!
I was encouraged it cited some previous SafeGrowth blogs - but discouraged to realize they do not actually exist. With hundreds of blogs on this site, it is not surprising I cannot recall them all, but I do not remember any blogs with those topics. Neither did my search of the site find any. In other words, Claude made them up! That is disturbing, to say the least!
Claude by Anthropic uses the technical writing technique of bullet points. It avoids free-flowing prose or metaphors. It gets straight to the point because, I assume, it only had 600 words and it didn't have the time or expertise to construct a more poetic exposition.
Bullet point writing, devoid of metaphor, simile, or literary license, can lead to a snooze fest. True, some of my paragraphs here could easily be rewritten into bullets, but reading through reams of bullet points is an exercise in ho-hum and humdrum. It is the humanness within writing that connects us to each other in ways not easily defined. AI seems to have problems with that - currently.
Yet AI can write poetry and create art!
AI lists predictive policing as a pro and sidesteps the ethical problems and critical research on predictive algorithms. AI does describe over-policing marginalized groups as a con, but it does not do so specifically so the reader does not connect the ethical problem with a specific application. Why?
It lists facial recognition software as a pro. But we know from research that AI facial recognition has fallen victim to the threat of false positives (mistakes) that have led to improper arrest and detention. There were prior blogs on this problem but claude.ai did not cite them even though I asked it to cite prior blogs. Instead, it cited blogs that were not terribly critical.
The fact that AI cited some prior AI blogs (which do not exist on the SafeGrowth site) but did not cite others (more critical blogs) makes me wonder! Blogs from 2021 Summoning the Demon and AI vs CPTED, or this year's blog Stop Dave, I'm Afraid... all omitted! Why? I'm told the current AI chat platforms (ChatGPT, Claude, and others), cannot access real-time data on the internet. Maybe that's why?
This experiment in AI blogging does not convince me AI is ready for prime time. It still needs plenty of fact-checking and human review. Of course, that could be said of any editing process. The fact that it wrote the blog in technical jargon with bullets, and avoided any literary license, suggests AI has a ways to go to create interesting prose.
Then again, IT project manager and author, Kurt Bell, tells us AI has already passed the famous Turing Test as of 2014. The Turing Test measures whether AI can be distinguished from a real human. In that test, at least, it could not.
That should give us all pause, especially when it starts with "I’ll explore some key pros and cons". Who, I wonder, is it referring to when it says "I"?
“I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. I mean with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.”
— Elon Musk at MIT’s AeroAstro Centennial Symposium
by Gregory Saville
A number of years ago I partnered with my friend, brilliant computer scientist friend, Nick Bereza, and we created an automated critical infrastructure protection software called ATRIM. Later, I did a stint with a tech startup in security. Thus, I was introduced into the glitzy world of tech and software development tradeshows.
I saw firsthand an industry both exciting and volatile. Competition was fierce and missteps led to demise. Along the way, I discovered the unspoken hierarchy in the security technology world. Occupying the bottom were the junk science startups armed with a veneer of techno-gibberish. At the top was the bigboy of the high-tech playground: AI – Artificial Intelligence. At that time, security & law enforcement AI was little more than theory and conceptual White Papers.
There is an important math concept in the AI world known as the Laws of the Logarithms.
Logs are math functions used to speed up computations. One example is Moore’s Law which states that computer processing speeds double every two years. Thus, 10 units of computer memory become 20 and two years later become 40. In two decades those 10 units multiply at an exponential rate into 10,240… a thousand times higher. Logarithmic growth is the difference between narrow-AI (Apple’s “Siri” or Amazon’s “Alexi”) and deep-AI (Hal 9000 or Ava from Ex Machina)
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Sophie the Robot from Hansen Robotics was first activated on February 14, 2016, as a robotic allegory of AI. Her accomplishments as an independent, thinking machine are well documented. She sports “scripting software, a chat system, and OpenCog, an AI system designed for general reasoning”. In other words, she can chat with you on any topic, interpret ideas, and learn from one conversation to the next.
AI experts tell us that Sophie is not conscious and is still responding based on a network of algorithms. One expert calculated her level of consciousness at about at the level of a single cell protozoa – hardly the stuff of Terminator. Deep AI is at least 200 years away, or so we are told.
I hope they told the Laws of Logarithms.
AI IN LAW ENFORCEMENT
A colleague recently forwarded research on AI in Law Enforcement and it rekindled memories of those AI White Papers at the tech trade shows from not so long ago. Today they go by titles like “Artificial Intelligence and Robotics for Law Enforcement” and “Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Policing”.
They are written by groups like Interpol, the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, and funded by groups like the US National Science Foundation, names with considerable gravitas. They take AI in law enforcement and security seriously.
They describe new technologies, some of which echo the similar junk science and techno-gibberish I saw years ago. The technologies they describe are mostly narrow AI – voice recognition, simultaneous location and mapping software, patrol drones, and predictive policing. They barely qualify as AI. None reach Sophie’s level of sophistication. So nothing to worry about, right?
AI IN POLICING DISPATCH
Maybe…maybe not! Consider Predictive Policing. PredPol sends patrol officers to areas that it predicts will become an issue in the future. It uses weekly police calls for service to estimate where crime will happen. But calls for police service only show up in police files when residents call the police – and many minority communities will not call the police for fear or distrust. So areas of high crime, where fearful residents remain behind closed doors, never get police via PredPol since those police units will be sent elsewhere. That’s not exactly fair and equitable police services.
To make matters worse, training for Predpol officers does not include what they should do differently when they get to the predicted crime hotspot. For example, if poor lighting is creating vulnerable areas for muggers, patrol officers are not taught Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design tactics to reduce opportunities for future assaults. Thus, if they find no one at the predicted hotspot, PredPol officers simply drive on to the next call. That’s not exactly intelligent policing, artificial or otherwise.
PredPol has even been criticized for amplifying racially biased patterns of policing... and all this considers the problems from only one form of narrow AI. Can you imagine the kinds of catastrophes that might unfold if things go wrong with immeasurably more powerful deep AI within law enforcement?
A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
Do law enforcement leaders dream that they can somehow control a sentient and fully conscious deep AI system that is immeasurably smarter than they are, linked globally to databases around the world, and capable of out-thinking and out-strategizing them?
If so, watch the Academy Award-winning film Ex Machina and see how that turns out.
Some very smart people worry about the danger of deep AI – people like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates. And in law enforcement and security, AI is the ultimate Faustian bargain! Is it really an intellectual cache worth cashing in on?
by Gregory Saville
Today I spoke to some colleagues in Europe about teaching a virtual course in SafeGrowth to students at a Swedish Technical University. It was remarkable in a number of ways. First, although cultural differences between countries make it difficult to apply anything from one place to another, I was amazed at the many similarities between different people in different cultures. It seems we are not all that different.
But it was another dimension to our conversation that struck me as surreal.
We were using Zoom, speaking in real-time, watching each other’s expressions thousands of miles, and many times zones apart. We showed different images on our computer files and used shared digital calendars to plan the workshop. I had never before met one of those colleagues and yet here we were, quite comfortable getting to share ideas and stories.
We dialed into our call as easy as changing chairs in a coffee shop. There was no difficulty or stress in setting up the meeting (aside from me fumbling with the wrong dial-in code). There was no fear of sharing with someone I had never before met in person.
Such is the reality of daily living in, not only a pandemic, but in the second decade of the 21st Century.
You may think that is all so, well, ho-hum. But it is actually quite remarkable!
FLASHBACK TO 1961
It's a hot and muggy summer afternoon in 1961 and journalist Jane Jacobs is banging away on her Underwood typewriter in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her ideas will later turn into one of the most famous urban reform books of her generation “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. Consider the reality of her world at that time, only one lifetime ago.
Overseas commercial jet travel was less than a decade old and a rare event for average citizens. Propeller airplanes were commonly used for overseas travel. Passenger ships were popular for commercial passage to and from Europe (I travelled to Britain on one as a kid 6 years later). Television was a novelty and broadcast in black-and-white. TV signals arrived via cumbersome TV “rabbit ears”.
Suffice to say the internet and computers did not exist for private citizens. Laptop computers would not be invented for decades to come. For entertainment and amusement, kids would go outside and play. Just imagine! Music was unrecognizable compared to what airs today – the Beatles appearance in the U.S. was still 3 years away.
In many neighborhoods, ice trucks transported huge ice blocks for home freezer boxes. Widely distributed electronic refrigerators were just being manufactured. Milk arrived at the front door of many homes in the form of a milkman placing milk bottles on your doorstep. Newspapers were delivered by the paperboy to each doorstep and the main source for immediate news was radio.
During hot and muggy days of a New York summer, apartments like those of Jacobs became sweltering ovens, even with fans and open windows. Air conditioning units were far too large for common use – the rotary compressor was invented only four years earlier.
Crime flourished in many neighborhood pockets and, in the decades that followed, many American cities, in particular, would experience an unimaginable explosion of urban crime. The justice system of 1961 was, frankly, utterly unprepared for the crime storm on the horizon.
Now fast forward 60 years from today to 2080!
What new technologies will shape daily lives? How will we travel and how will we communicate? Will this pandemic, or the next, force us into permanent social distances and some futuristic face covering? Will personal intimacy be relegated to staged meet-ups and software date matching? We have worked with the Swedish Helsingborg City 2022 Smart City initiative and they ask these very questions about our cities of tomorrow.
What will our streets and neighborhoods look like? Will we get climate change under control or will the number and intensity of weather catastrophes erase coastal cities and trigger mass migrations like never before in history? Or will renewable technologies create electric vehicles and flying drones to transport us in highways in the sky? Certainly, those technologies are already in our grasp. Will artificial technologies transform our cities into Smart Cities in which we need no longer worry about car crashes, traffic jams, or traffic? Will cars exist?
The technologies we take for granted today would be fantastical to the Jane Jacobs of 1961. As she pounded away at her typewriter in a humid and stuffy hot New York afternoon, today’s world would be as alien as a Martian from the 1950s science fiction film, War of the Worlds.
If we are to believe Einstein (I place my bets on Albert), then time travel is quite impossible. So, there is no way to know what will unfold by 2080. Some of you reading these words will be alive to see those times and I wonder what you will see.
Today, as I chatted with friends far away, with technologies unimaginable long ago, it occurred that the ideas we develop, the actions we take, and the virtual courses we teach, represent an important drop in the proverbial pond of time. Jacobs wrote well. We learn from her words even today. For the sake of our progeny, may we offer the same kind of wisdom for their future!
by Gerard Cleveland & Gregory Saville
NOTE: This week my colleague Gerard Cleveland from Perth, Australia and I share this blog about drones. Gerry is an attorney, a specialist in school violence, and the co-founder of the concept called 2nd Generation CPTED.
Drones will change our lives as much as COVID-19 and the internet. The possibilities for future generations are endless. Kids today say ‘what is dial up’? In ten years they will ask ‘what’s a fire truck’? We certainly hope so.
We have nothing against firefighters - our point is about technological revolutions and the future.
Consider that much of our current urban landscape with its ugly suburbs and huge roadways are built for, among other things, the passage of fire trucks. If we don’t need the space for those huge trucks and ladders, we may just be able to realize Jane Jacobs' dream of town planners and architects designing and building more interactive, less segmented living spaces.
Once we get design of our communities out of the hands of the pragmatists with no vision, we may start building liveable spaces that we want rather than accommodating the transport needs of emergency services.
FIRE DRONES IN THE FUTURE
Over the years, visions of a different kind of city made appearances in this blog: Arcosante, the Aerotropolis, and the Smart City. This latest drone innovation tested in China and some other countries fits into the Smart City vision. It is, after all, pretty smart to adapt drones for dangerous duties.
Fire drones are only one possible way new technologies might transform how we design cities. For example, the SafeGrowth Network is currently working with colleagues in Helsingborg, Sweden to introduce crime prevention innovations at the Helsingborg 22 Smart City Exposition in two years.
In the meantime, after we eliminate fire trucks, and save a squillion or so on fire suppression, maybe someone out there can also design colour blind community protector robocops to patrol the streets?
Bring on the drones!
by Mateja Mihinjac
Never did the reality of rapidly changing and technologically advanced cities become more apparent than during my recent visit to Singapore. Coming from a small European town with narrow medieval streets, city squares and few high rises in its city core, arriving in Singapore felt like time travel. Modern architecture, multi-level pathways and an interplay between city design and nature was, in my eyes, a very different and futuristic image of modern cities.
SINGAPORE – A SMART CITY?
This city of 5.5 million inhabitants was designated a 2015 UNESCO Creative City of Design. It puts great emphasis on its innovation and aesthetic design, and is one of the leading smart cities in the world. Singapore is also one of the safest Asian cities that boasts the highest quality of life in the region.
The Singapore Design Masterplan Committee developed a 2025 design masterplan envisioning a technologically advanced and environmentally sustainable innovative city with opportunities for enjoying all the ample activities that the city has to offer.
However, despite referring to people-centered design, much of Singapore’s infrastructure culminated from top-down planning. The 2025 plan describes how they “actively engaged industry and public sector stakeholders through interviews and focus group discussions”, but ultimately it fails to consider a deeper level of community involvement and how citizens will develop a stronger sense of community, pride, and neighborliness from design innovations.
As we know in SafeGrowth, in many cities this top-down process often results in citizens becoming disconnected from the plans and decisions made by city agencies. That, in turn, affects ownership and sustainability over the long term as we attempt to enhance social cohesion in neighborhoods.
Smart City strategist Boyd Cohen emphasizes this people-centered point in a recent article when he claims: “Cities must move from treating citizens as recipients of services, or even customers, to participants in the co-creation of improved quality of life.”
This people-centered message is well established in neighborhood-based planning. In our SafeGrowth book, my chapter describes neighborhood engagement as an essential part of SafeGrowth planning. The message of the chapter is fundamental; citizens need to become co-creators of their cities.
Fortunately, this is the latest trend in Smart Cities – a shift from a technological and corporate/government planning system toward citizen-driven planning where citizens become co-creators of decisions, solutions and design.
Unfortunately, despite institutional collaboration, Singapore still appears to be driven top-down by the city government and it lacks a coherent citizen component. By comparison, cities such as Vienna, Austria, and Medellin, Columbia are examples showing how equity and social inclusion can play a part in future smart cities.
At the core of citizen-driven smart cities are empowered, smart citizens who collaborate in the development of the city. It is an approach called collective intelligence, and it arises from two ingredients: technology that supports the social and everyday activities of average people; and planning that involves citizens establishing the activities they want in the city they call home.
by Gregory Saville
The writing on the shop walls and the floating billboards was Anglo-Chinese. On the street, cityspeak combined English, Chinese and Spanish, a vernacular that served the homeless, the marginally employed and the unfortunate. Pollution and environmental collapse led to constant clouds and pelting rain. The affluent traveled to off-world colonies on Mars and elsewhere, leaving the rest of us behind. Bio-engineered, human-like robots called Replicants used their artificial intelligence and rebelled.
That was the horrific world described in Philip K. Dick’s book that became the 1982 sci-fi classic, Bladerunner. I blogged on Bladerunner architecture last year. When I watched Bladerunner in the 1980s it seemed like an impossible future. And it was set for such a long way ahead – 2019!
That's next year! With only a month left, how close is that future?
UNFOLDING AS WE SPEAK
It doesn’t take much imagination to see a Bladerunner vision unfolding. True, we are nowhere near that specific dystopia. We still don’t have flying cars (but we have self-driving ones!). Yet, one wonders...
This week I watched NASA’s exciting landing on the planet Mars. Space X CEO Elon Musk says he’ll get people to Mars within six years. How long before off-world colonies evolve?
This year I watched the fruits of some incredible advances in artificial intelligence and bio-engineering, including the world tour of the remarkable Sophie, the first thinking and speaking robot to attain citizenship. Sophie tells us not to worry; real robots are not like Bladerunner.
Then there is the decades-long Chinese economic miracle and the environmental mess we watch with increasing regularity in hurricanes, wildfires, species extinction and climate chaos.
Philip K. Dick, it seems, was on track. How might we derail that particular future? The usual formula is to rethink geo-politics and create a new macroeconomics. Nevertheless, the maxim ‘think global, act local’ has special relevance here. Take, for example, Philadelphia!
ONE NEIGHBORHOOD’S STORY
Over the past few years we brought SafeGrowth to Philadelphia. We now have some great advocates working for the neighborhood association, HACE. This year they began implementing their latest 10-year 2025 Neighborhood Plan.
For years HACE and friends have been diligently working to transform the blight, drugs and crime into a greener, socially connected, economically vibrant neighborhood. Now their new, SafeGrowth-infused 2025 plan is underway and they’ve been making strides.
They installed new, clean walking trails where garbage was once strewn.
They instituted Philadelphia’s first SafeGrowth Livability Academy, a collaborative on-going workshop with 30 neighbors and police during which they developed problem-solving strategies for their neighborhood.
The HACE plan envisions greener areas, community gardens, better resourced neighborhood hubs, safe intergenerational and affordable housing. HACE has already built over 200 units of affordable housing and leveraged over $100 million in redevelopment and improvements. A host of community-building strategies are already underway.
For example, they, and their partners, shut down a drug infested, homeless camp along a railway underpass. That naturally displaced addicts to street level, resulting in a public outcry (after decades of inaction). Ultimately, that led to a more coordinated city response to treat drug users, expand homeless beds and increase shelters.
There is a long way to go and resources and shelter beds are still scarce (one estimate suggest Philadelphia has 50,000 opioid addicts, many of whom end up here). But at least action is finally underway.
That is the hard community-building work that cuts crime, improves livability, and gets neighbors engaged in shaping their own future.
Too many mayors get caught up in a fear-based echo chamber that makes them vulnerable to peddlers of security technology and promises of a bright, high-tech future.
Too many city leaders act as obsequious errand-boys for the technologists, embracing the faint promise of hostile architecture, public CCTV, automated security robots, predictive algorithms seeking crime, and audio software to track gang gunfire. (Wouldn't it be better to prevent the gunfire in the first place?)
They do this with the ill-informed hope that technology will prevail. But in doing this, they snatch defeat from the hands of successful action-based community projects right in front of them. They invite a Bladerunner future.
May they fail.
Security robot on patrol - Video Washington Post
Luddite: (adjective) one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to especially technological change - Merriam-Webster
by Greg Saville
The story of the Luddite resonated last week with word from San Francisco about a controversy surrounding the K-5 Security Robot. We blogged on the K-5 a few years ago - On the threshold of a robotics revolution.
Since then the journey of the security robot has not been straight; it has been drowned in a Washington DC fountain and it has mistakenly run over a toddler's leg at a Palo Alto shopping center.
And last week, according to Newsweek, the security robot was removed from duty after deterring homeless encampments near the San Francisco SPCA. Apparently homeless people vandalized the SPCA robot, angry about being singled out by the SPCA and the security robot.
LUDDITE OR TECHNOPHILE
The issue is layered. On one hand, security robots are the latest technology and like all new technologies, they can be applied in ways both sacred and profane. There are places, such as underground parking lots, where an automated security patroller with surveillance tools can keep watch and help make isolated places safer.
In the San Francisco case, SPCA representative Krista Maloney says“staff wasn't able to safely use the sidewalks at times because of the encampments… since the SPCA started guarding its facilities with the robot (known as K9) a month ago, the homeless encampments have dwindled and there have been fewer car break-ins.”
But beneath the surface lurks a darker story.
THE DARK SIDE
This blog has reported on the so-called hostile architecture movement, especially CPTED tactics used to dehumanize places to exclude certain groups over other groups. Dealing with homeless encampments, which by definition means dealing with homeless people, with a security robot, is a questionable tactic. And the homeless have been outraged. Since the security robot began patrolling in front of the SPCA, the Washington Post claims it has been "allegedly smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker."
Are there better, more humane, solutions? In some communities, Housing First programs, seem to work. In fact, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, population 65,000, claims to have eliminated homelessness with the Housing First strategy. Why isn’t San Francisco helping the SPCA and the homeless with such a program?
by Greg Saville
A new amnesia is creeping into crime prevention. And we are left with criminal justice fads: programs that are little more than old wine in new bottles; police “enforcement” teams as ineffective as they are discredited; new, unproven security technologies ad naseum.
Few remember that, once upon a time, well-established community crime prevention and problem-oriented policing strategies actually cut crime. They were not abandoned because they no longer worked on modern problems. They were abandoned because the latest generation did not learn the lessons of history. In truth, new leaders obsess on foisting the latest fad on an uninformed public.
Someone forgot to teach them history.
BOOK REVIEW – DESIGNING OUT CRIME
Case in point: The book Designing Out Crime edited by Len Garis and Paul Maxim (2016).
There are some intriguing chapters in this book like Peters’ “Transitions and Social Programming”, particularly the discussion on homelessness. Another by Plecas and Croisdale is intriguing: “Doing Something about Prolific Offenders”.
Then the story sours. Jordan Diplock’s chapter on “Designing Out Opportunities for Crime” is particularly narrow. It limits itself to a target hardening version of 1st Generation CPTED (including the discredited broken windows theory or the pseudo-scientific routine activity theory).
It mentions how cities like Saskatoon established CPTED review committees to implement CPTED, but it fails to mention that Saskatoon's version of CPTED is actually called SafeGrowth and all design guidelines incorporate the social programming inherent in 2nd Generation CPTED.
The chapter also bypasses the literature of 2nd Generation CPTED, ignores theoretical progress in the last 15 years, and overlooks the practical progress made by hundreds of practitioners who promote CPTED around the world (including British Columbia) within the International CPTED Association.
This historical amnesia is surprising since the book proclaims, “Crime prevention is a societal matter that relies on a commitment from the entire criminal justice system plus the community at large”.
But then it presents chapters on technology, administrative tactics, and regulatory approaches that, while interesting, stray far from that proclamation about the community at large. This is particularly worrisome in the obsession on target hardening, technical security devices, and other tech glitz, for example, a chapter on “Designing Out Crime Through the Use of Technology”. There’s not much community at large in that!
Most surprising is this: In the 1990s British Columbia was the site of Canada’s first police academy Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) course taught to hundreds of officers, Canada’s first national POP conference, and its first government Commission recommending POP and crime prevention. That Golden Age of Crime Prevention and POP faded to dust, as demonstrated by books like this. It faded when police leaders and politicians lost focus and then defunded workable community crime prevention. It fizzed away like a bottle of stale Canadian beer.
It’s the new amnesia. And it’s not restricted to British Columbia!
Why is this so?
To the credit of the book, a quote by a retired RCMP Sgt. Brian Foote offers the best answer. I worked with Sgt Foote in BC teaching CPTED years ago. Brian is among the most outstanding prevention practitioners anywhere. When Brian speaks, I listen.
“Overall, all we have ever really done is tinker superficially with crime prevention. As a consequence most of our crime prevention efforts are now on a pile of abandoned and untested criminal justice fads.”
How true that is. And how sad. Collective amnesia! We must learn this lesson and look elsewhere for a better future.
by Greg Saville
There is a remarkable story in today’s Guardian newspaper titled “How Japan has almost eradicated gun crime”. It says in 2014 Japan had “just six gun deaths compared to 33,599 in the US.”
Six gun deaths? In the entire country of 130 million people? The US averages 10 gun deaths per 100,000 persons (both felonious and accidental). Canada is less than 2. The UK and Australia under 1. Japan's number is so low it doesn’t register!
Ah, say the naysayers, that may be six gun deaths but you cannot compare the two countries! Raw population size alone accounts for the difference! Right?
Nope. Both countries have large populations: Japan is the 10th most populous country and America the 3rd. At 130 million, Japan is just under half the US population of 325 million.
Ah, say the naysayers, there are lots of other reasons why you can't compare.
Let's consider them...
Does the US have more poverty? Nope! The US reports its relative poverty rate at 13.5%. Japan posts its relative poverty rate at 16%.
America is far more diverse and Japan is far more culturally homogenous. True, that probably leads to shared social attitudes about non-violence in Japan. But it is a fact that most of American urban violence is not between different racial groups but rather within them (a truism ignored by fact-free politicians).
Perhaps American history, with a civil war and multiple overseas wars, fuels a culture of violence? Nope, Japan isn't that different! Consider Japanese militarism following the Meiji Restoration, the Sino-Japanese wars, the Russian-Japanese War, and of course WW2.
Perhaps there are more frustrated people who live in dense American cities and that drives them to crime (the US is 81% urban)? Nope! Japan is 78% urban and the world’s largest city - Tokyo - is one of the densest and most urban in the world. It is also among the safest.
The latest in criminology is to explain global crime declines via increases in security technology, DNA fingerprints, predictive policing, CCTV computer algorithms, etc.
Nope, that doesn't work either. DNA fingerprinting works after a crime, not before. It might get a chronic offender off the streets. But given DNAs investigative scarcity around the world, claiming it accounts for crime declines stretches the logic gap to Grand Canyon proportion. Predictive policing has not been around long enough to register on statistical radar screens.
And CCTV? Every time I turn on the nightly news I watch an "exclusive report" of a robbery "caught on tape"? If CCTV is so great cutting crime, why do gun robberies keep showing up on the nightly news? Obviously, research on CCTV effectiveness is spotty.
Security tech isn’t the answer.
GANGS and GUNS
Stats are hard to come by, but rough estimates suggest there are 1.4 million gang members in the US and 100,000 Yakuza in Japan. That’s a whopping difference of .4 to .07 percent of each country’s population respectively (almost 6 times as many criminal gang members per capita in the US).
The gang theory makes some sense since Yakuza are not only fewer in number but far more disciplined that their US counterparts. But the obvious explanatory elephant in this room is simple. Guns!
CARNAGE IN FLORIDA, AGAIN
After years of blogging about mass murder, guns and gangs in places like Orlando, Connecticut, Los Angeles, and too many others, I’m not going to harp on gun control or the long-proven crime causation theory behind it. For clear thinkers, it is study-laden and it is obvious. It is also a theory well understood in places like Canada, Australia and especially Japan.
So the American carnage continues. Yesterday there was yet another mass shooting on US soil by a madman triggered by “voices” (said the FBI). This latest mass murder was a lone gunman at the Fort Lauderdale airport and in 80 seconds he shot and killed 5 and injured 11. That is more than all those killed by guns in Japan for an entire year.
I have been pondering the security technology encroachments into public life, particularly regarding CCTV monitoring. There was a time, it seems now very long ago, that the UK was awash in CCTV. Hundreds of millions of dollars, and over four million (and counting) CCTV cameras later, the UK is the most surveilled society on earth.
We were assured that would never happen in the US, or other developed countries. Violate our civil rights? No way cried the libertarian and democratic pundits in unison.
Still, if you have nothing to hide…
Today, London and Beijing have over 400,000 CCTV each (proving politics is no guarantee either way). In the US there are over 30 million CCTV cameras, mostly in private hands. But there are now CCTV on streets in every major US city (Houston and Chicago lead the way with over 14,000 in Chicago alone) and public support is growing.
APPLAUDING OR BOOING?
On one hand, we applaud when police apprehend the Boston terrorists due in large measure to public CCTV. We also later watched those same terrorists as they planted and exploded the devices - prevention was not a result of those cameras.
I always applaud traffic intersection CCTV to cut car crashes, especially in my city where drivers spend more time in narcissistic self-obsession beating the red light rather than watching where they are going.
THE NEW REALITY
Recently I’ve been reviewing the latest in CCTV analytics, intelligent tracking and real-time scene analysis - CCTV on steroids. The thing is no longer motion detection or auto tracking (so old school). The latest is intelligent video analytics, a major evolution from facial recognition software in yesteryear. Video analytics is made possible by exponential increases in processing power and so-called ‘intelligent’ algorithms.
And now it is part of security and public safety, watching for suspicious movements, packages, behaviors. Watching you! How does the computer know what to look for? It uses algorithms based on past behavior. In future, it may use artificial intelligence to learn on its own. And that is where things get interesting.
Wired magazine puts it this way:
“voice, image, and motion recognition will transform human-computer interfaces into a seamless interaction between the user and all the computing devices in that person’s life.”
A few years ago I blogged about economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin, his forecasts, the Internet of Things and his predictions for disruptive technologies. It seems he was right. Should we be worried?
- Gregory Saville
My High Line Park post a few weeks ago happened because of my fascinating new friend and community mapping guru, Wansoo Im. He showed us High Line with the energy of an excited tourist, even though he is an area resident, adjunct professor in urban planning at Rutgers University and founder of inventive initiatives in community mapping. I discovered he brings that energy to his work everywhere.
Wansoo is a pretty cool fellow. He has mapped safe routes to school for kids and helped residents use crowdsourcing to map potholes. Huffington Post describes how he got high school students to crowdmap emergency gas stations to help residents stranded during Hurricane Sandy. The New Yorker featured him using crowdsource mapping to solve the problem of finding public washrooms in New York. And now he's turning to community mapping of crime and fear.
I met Wansoo at our New Jersey SafeGrowth training where he is testing his community mapping software called Mappler. It uses Google Earth and GPS and most importantly it doesn't rely on complex GIS mapping - the stuff crime analysts spend months mastering. And it's dead easy to use.
Mappler technology works as a smart phone app. Our class was able to input Safety Audit fear data directly from their observations and view it in real-time on neighborhood maps. Pretty cool stuff.
Community mapping may be the way to tap into engagement in a direct way. And for Millennials growing up as Internet natives it offers a new way they can use their considerable talents to solve community crime.
The latest police vehicle in the fleet - the G3.mp4 - top-of-the-line
Consider the AC/DC lyrics in the above advertisement for the Lenco Bearcat G3.mp4 police vehicle:
I was caught
In the middle of a railroad track
I looked 'round,
And I knew there was no turning back
My mind raced
And I thought what could I do?
And I knew
There was no help, no help from you
An omen perhaps of a possible future?
I'm thinking of our LISC friends in Detroit this week as I watch with sadness the news of that city's bankruptcy. On the heels of a number of other Great Recession city bankruptcies, this is the largest in US history.
Just imagine broken police cars with no fuel, employee payrolls empty, acres of abandoned homes! Is there any doubt this is Toffler's hinge in history? I wonder what future that hinge will open?
Today the Wall Street Journal, that staid fixture not known for radical thought, foreshadowed one future in Risk of the Warrior Cop.
It describes the increasing militarization of American policing. Those familiar with SafeGrowth may remember my blogs on combat policing and warrior cops. Some say my combat cop versus community cop dichotomy is unfair. Both are needed, right?
Maybe. But one wonders why the Cobb County Police require an amphibious military tank? Perhaps "tank" overstates. (How about military-grade, turbo-charged, armored personnel carrier with thermal imaging and tear gas grenade launchers?) Or why does the Richland County Sheriff require, "a machine-gun equipped armored personnel carrier that he nicknamed The Peacemaker."
Fueling this trend, in 2011 the Department of Defense gave away almost $500 million worth of military equipment to police.
Former Kansas City police chief Joseph McNamara warns police militarization is risky and counterproductive. "It's totally contrary to what we think is good policing, which is community policing".
With apologies to Detroit, all this domestic militarization brought to mind a future portrayed in a 1987 film. Then it dawned on me! (Cue sarcastic tone). I know exactly what law enforcement needs... The Enforcement Droid series 209, programmed of course for urban pacification.
If it wasn't so possible, it would be funny.