Policing and Incarceration

Latency, uncertainty, contagion: Epistemologies of risk-as-reform in crime forecasting software

A shift in crime analysis software used by municipal police departments in the US is currently underway from simpler predictive models to criminal ‘risk’ forecasting that uses data not specific to crime to direct police to areas with ‘environmental risk factors’ such as bars, transit stops and mental health facilities. Through analyses of interviews with developers, industry professionals and law enforcement as well as published statements, this article offers a detailed examination of how the function and premises of ‘data-driven’ policing are altered by this turn to epistemologies of risk. I argue that the latent presence of ‘disorder’ supplements visible aberrations of ‘order.’ Statistical indeterminacies are called upon to justify a range of police interventions, and a focus on arenas of contagion supplements the spatial logic of containment. These turns reveal that the paradigm of ‘risk’ participates in the cooptation by technocratic reform of critiques exposing the problematic geographies of policing. I therefore suggest a shift away from critique oriented by revealing spatial bias in purported objectivity and towards interventions in the operationalization of indeterminacy itself and the vision of public life that undergirds and is enacted by this software.

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Volume 41 Issue 4

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