News  |    |  July 10, 2017

The Ex-Cop at the Center of Controversy Over Crime Prediction Tech

News article by Joshua Brustein.
Published in Bloomberg.


A new company makes AI software in use at a handful of police departments. Can it make law enforcement more transparent?

There’s a story Brett Goldstein likes to tell. It starts on a Friday night in 2010 with him sitting in a darkened Crown Victoria on a Chicago street, poring over maps. Goldstein was a commander at the Chicago Police Department, in charge of a small unit using data analysis to predict where certain types of crimes were likely to occur at any time. Earlier that day, his computer models forecast a heightened probability of violence on a particular South Side block. Now that he and his partner were there, Goldstein was doubting himself.

“It didn’t look like it should be a target for a shooting,” he recalled. “The houses looked great. Everything was well manicured. You expect, if you’re in this neighborhood, you’re looking for abandoned buildings, you’re looking for people selling dope. I saw none of that.”

Still, they staked it out. Goldstein’s wife had just given birth to their second child, and he was exhausted after a day in the office. He started to doze off. Goldstein’s partner argued that the data must be wrong. At 11 p.m., they left.

Several hours later, Goldstein woke up to the sound of his BlackBerry buzzing. There had been a shooting—on the block where he’d been camped out. “This sticks with me because we thought we shouldn’t be there, but the computer thought we should be there,” said Goldstein. He took the near-miss as vindication of his vision for the future of law enforcement. “I do believe in a policeman’s gut. But I also believe in augmenting his or her gut,” he said. [ . . . ]