The police department of Fresno, California has been using the software program, Beware, for the last year now. It has recently decided to continue the use of the program after an initial free trial period. The makers of Beware, Intrado, wanted to develop a “tool to help
first responders understand the nature of the environment they may encounter during the window of a 9-1-1 event.” Beware sorts and evaluates numerous public records ranging from criminal
history to Twitter feeds to assess potentially dangerous situations
first responders may encounter at the scene. Using these huge batches of data, Beware can also evaluate how likely individuals are to commit crimes.

Concerns about errors in the information collected and the use of Beware to surveil citizens and profile them before citizens even commit a crime have grown as police departments implemented the software. A Fresno civil rights lawyer, Rob Nabarro, is concerned about how Beware rate’s individual likelihood to commit a crime. Intrado evaluates all the public information with its sole discretion and turns it into a score — green, yellow, or red. There is also the risk of Beware misinterpreting some of the data which may cause the police to have preconceived notions about the individual before there is an interaction.

When Fresno residents became aware of the use of Beware by the police department, they protested and a hearing was held in November. One councilman in attendance, Clinton Olivier, requested his threat level be calculated. Olivier earned a green rating; however, his home earned a yellow rating. “Even though it’s not me that’s the yellow guy, your officers are going to treat whoever comes out of that house in his boxer shorts as the yellow guy,” Olivier remarked, expressing fairness concerns.

Many believe that use of such systems are “predictive policing” creating a Minority Report law enforcement atmosphere. In Minority Report, a specialized police department apprehends criminals before they commit a crime. The chief of Fresno Police Department said such concerns are exaggerated, emphasizing that the Beware scores do not trigger a police response and that only operators use them as guides to better inform the first responders; the officers at the scene never see the scores. Nevertheless, the Fresno Police Department will reassess certain aspects of Beware such as turning off Beware’s color rating system and social media monitoring.

With programs like Beware likely to continue growing in popularity, there will inevitably be intense debate on the amount of information law enforcement can collect on individuals without a search warrant and how law enforcements can act on such information.

Jennifer Hunt

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