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Communications of the ACM

Law and technology

Increasing Automation in Policing

police officers examine wall-sized map display

Credit: Frame Stock Footages

We know how artificial intelligence works in our lives: it helps in picking movies, choosing dates, and correcting misspellings. But what does it mean in policing? Is AI replacing traditional police tasks? Does the police use of AI present novel challenges? Should increasing police reliance on AI concern us? The answer to these questions is "Yes." In the past decade the increasing reliance by police on artificial intelligence tools raises questions about how to strike the right balance between public safety and civil liberties.

Think of policing and you are likely to imagine a uniformed patrol officer scanning the environment for suspicious activity. The most powerful tools an officer once possessed were a gun, experience, and training. But new technologies are changing the way the police approach the streets. Automated license plate readers that identify hundreds of plates a minute are commonplace. The Chicago Police Department uses an algorithm that identifies which city residents may be at especially high risk as perpetrators or victims of gun violence.1 The police in Fresno, CA, piloted an alert system that tells an officer whether the driver the police officer just pulled over to the side of the road poses a threat.4 To this list we can also add facial recognition, suspect profiling, and financial anomaly detection.


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