Policing and Incarceration

Digitize and punish: Computerized crime mapping and racialized carceral power in Chicago

While critical attention has recently turned to racialized police violence in US cities, another quiet development in urban policing is taking place. Hundreds of police departments have begun to wed database software with geographic information systems to represent crime cartographically. Focusing on the Chicago police’s digital mapping application, CLEARmap, the article interprets this development from the standpoint of racialized carceral power. It puts critical geographic information systems theory into discussion with critical ethnic studies and builds the case that CLEARmap does not passively “read” urban space, but provides ostensibly scientific ways of reading and policing negatively racialized fractions of surplus labor in ways that reproduces, and in some instances extends the tentacles of carceral power. CLEARmap’s data structure ensures that negatively racialized fractions of surplus labor, the places they inhabit, and the social problems that afflict them are only representable to state authorities and the public as objects of policing and punishment. CLEARmap is also used at police–community meetings and via the Internet to adapt public perceptions of crime to that of the policing apparatus, and mobilize the public as appendages of police surveillance. By tracing these phenomena, the article casts a heretofore untheorized dimension of the carceral power into sharp relief.

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Volume 35 Issue 5

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