Profiling risks, lack of transparency among RJC's objections to predictive policing software purchase
Update: Read more about Monday's City Council hearing in this Bellingham Herald article: "Bellingham police to get predictive policing despite concerns"
The Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition was joined by members of the community for a rally in front of Bellingham City Hall before Monday’s City Council Meeting. The group opposes the Bellingham Police Department’s proposed purchase of “Predictive Policing” profiling software, citing a lack of transparency and reasonable notice, and risk of further institutionalizing various forms of police profiling.
Bellingham City Council conducted a hearing on Monday on Bellingham Police Department’s application for a Bureau of Justice grant in the amount of $21,213 in order to purchase “Predictive Policing” software. The software creates “customized crime predictions for the places and times that crimes are most likely to occur, based on years of past questionable data from the local police department.”
The Racial Justice Coalition issued this statement:
The Racial Justice Coalition is a group of concerned community members and organizations seeking to end systemic racism that manifests itself by racist institutional practices and policies. One such institutionally racist practice is racial profiling which leads to the disproportionate stopping, frisking, detaining, arresting and incarceration of people of color nationwide and right here in Whatcom County. The RJC is concerned with the short notice that was given for the community to educate itself regarding the methods by which the Bair program determines which neighborhoods should be the target of extra police actions. Historically, and presently, data presented by law enforcement implies that people of color commit more crimes. The biased policies used by law enforcement, however, lead to more charges and arrests of people of color. If biased data is put into the program, the program will give police biased predictions and data. The RJC asks that the council vote that the city not pursue this grant until the city can obtain the metrics by which the program makes recommendations, and the community is given time to investigate the decision making process and resulting impacts on people of color.
Predictive Policing/Profiling software could legitimize racial profiling, since it bases its predictions, hotspots, and risk ratings on past police data and years of targeting specific communities. Once legitimized, racial profiling will be that much harder to eliminate.
The group gathered in front of City Hall at 6:30 pm. The event provided an opportunity for community reflection about systemic racism.
Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition organized the rally, and included people from diverse races, ages, abilities, and religions.
People attending the event held signs that read “Predictive Policing=Profiling”, “Predictive Policing≠Community Policing, “Stop Racial Profiling,” "White Silence = Violence" and "Stand Against Racism."
“We are concerned about racial profiling and transparency,” said Kim Harris, on behalf of the Racial Justice Coalition. “The Racial Justice Coalition asks that the council direct Chief Cook not to go forward with the grant request until the Council and the impacted community has had time to learn how the software works.”
“We are not born racist,” said Edward Alexander. “We internalize racism and racial bias over the course of years of messages from the stories we tell each other, local news, movies, TV, and the way we use language. A system is nothing more than the individuals that make it up. If we are not part of changing the system, our silence is tacit support for it.”
“I am grateful that our community stands strong against racial profiling,” said Dr. Joseph Garcia. “I encourage Chief Cook to listen to the community.”
“Racial profiling already happens in Bellingham,” said community member Junga Subedar. “This software will only make it worse. Bad data in, bad data out.”