A New Era of Policing and Justice

Technologies being developed for use in policing and criminal justice raise new questions about civil rights in a data-soaked world. From body-worn cameras to biometrics, from social media as a site of evidence to predictive policing, from algorithms for risk assessment to open data about policing — there are numerous questions about when, how, and if these tools can meaningfully serve the communities that police swear to protect, as well as strengthen the ability of people to seek justice in a fair and equitable way. All too often, how these technologies are designed differs from how they’re deployed; their value is affected by the policies and culture that surround implementation, and yet deployments are often ill-assessed.

To better understand how new technologies are reconfiguring policing and criminal justice, Data & Society teamed up with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn to host the second conference on Data & Civil Rights:

A New Era of Policing and Justice gathered civil rights leaders, law enforcement representatives, corporate vendors, activists, government agencies, and technology researchers to grapple with what is known and unknown and map out differences of opinion and gaps in information. The conference was by-invitation and held under the Chatham House Rule, with small groups brought together to dive into hard issues and discuss them frankly in a workshop-style format. We feel that it’s important that we make available the day’s findings and questions.

Today we’re releasing an executive summary of what we learned, all of the write-ups from the workshops, videos of the level-setting opening and closing remarks, and the preparatory materials and primers we produced to offer a basis for conversation. The primers provide an overview of the research literature and the rhetoric and framing around these technologies:

A New Era of Policing and Justice was designed to elicit tensions and push deeper into hard questions. Much is needed for us to move forward in these domains, including empirical evidence, innovation, community organizing, and strategic thinking. We learned a lot during this process, but much more work is needed to address the challenges presented by emerging technology in policing and justice. Above all, we learned how important it is for diverse constituencies to come together to address the challenges — and opportunities — that face us.

Moving forward, we need your help. We need to go beyond hype and fear, hope and anxiety, and deepen our collective understanding of how technology alters policing and justice. We need to keep our eye on the importance of civil rights. We need to work together to identify challenges and not get too caught up in what we believe technology can and will do such that we avoid assessing the actual implications. The criminal justice ecosystem is often fraught with competing values and commitments, but technology is not neutral. How it is designed and deployed is shaped by the values of the ecosystem, and we must work together to make sure that the technologies that are being introduced have the values that we want and expect baked into them. To get to a fairer society, we need to work together to move past simplistic understandings of technology and go deeper.

The material we are releasing today is a baby step, an attempt to scope out the landscape so that we can all work together. Please help us imagine how we should move forward. If you have any ideas or feedback, don’t hesitate to contact us at nextsteps at datacivilrights dot org.