App warns users about crimes “before they are committed”

Police Release "Pre-Crime" Smartphone App


Swiss police have released a “pre-crime” smartphone app which warns users about crimes “before they are committed” based on criminal prediction software.

The app, published by the Aargau cantonal police under the name “Kapo Aargau,” sends users a “pre-crime” report for their area compiled by the Precobs forecasting software, which uses past crime data fed into an algorithm.

“The cantonal police of Aargau used the Precobs for a short time and comes to a similar conclusion: the system has repeatedly delivered amazingly accurate predictions,” the Aargauer Zeitung reported when the app was first being tested. “That leaves other cantons listening attentively; police forces from across the country are interested in testing the software.”

And across the world as well; numerous police departments in the U.S. are also using similar technology,such as the Miami Police Dept. which has adopted the Hunchlab prediction software.

Hunchlab reportedly allows officers to “best forecast when and where crimes are likely to emerge” using years’ worth of past crime data.

“It doesn’t replace actual police work,” Lt. Sean MacDonald told the Miami Herald. “It’s policing with smarter technology.”

But pre-crime software is not without its critics.

“Experience says that such apps get expanded and changed after they are on the market,” privacy advocate Matthias Monroy told Spiegel.

And there’s also the risk of police harassing innocent people because they happen to be where a crime is predicted to happen.

“To stop you and frisk you and search you, a police officer needs reasonable suspicion, so my question is how will this affect reasonable suspicion?” Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, asked.

If the search is based on a computer algorithm, Ferguson added, and the case comes to court, how do you cross-examine a computer?

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