Angiulo: New Law Enforcement Tool Raises Important Questions
Monday, December 30, 2013
Of note is the source of this program. According to the publication, ORCA began when law enforcement identified fundamental similarities between insurgents in foreign nations and gang members in our own cities. With that corollary, the paper's authors conducted the research necessary, by their description, to merge the military tactics used in counter-insurgency with viral marketing and regular old police work. The results of their research is the ORCA program, which claims to be able to generate visualizations of gang social structures, determine degree of group membership and identify influential members of the organizations.
Impressively, the program does this by collecting data from detailed police reports and other sources. Any time a person is arrested, the police report includes highly relevant information such as location of offense, the identity of co-defendants and less obvious, but important, details such as color of clothing and tattoos. According to the publication, ORCA takes this information along with details from other sources to identify connections between gangs, sub-groups and individuals. Another important part of the ORCA analysis is the identification of parties as potential gang members even if they do not claim that status. The calculation described by the authors includes evidence of association other than from police reports. Using common sense, these sources could include things like social media friendships and familial connections.
The constructive purposes for law enforcement include identifying sources of trouble and understanding motivations for retribution in gang activity. In addition, page 3 of the publication discusses the ability to target particularly charismatic individuals who could draw others into more aggressively violent forms of criminal activity. This potential is described as the radicalization of gang members or associates by charismatic offenders. As an outsider, this seems to indicate an ability of law enforcement to focus their efforts on people who have the highest potential for future wrong doing. In an era where state budgets force law enforcement to do more with less this seems to be an excellent tool for modernization and efficiency.
The proponents of effective gang crime prevention cite the need to keep our communities safe. In addition, the legislature of various states have chosen to make gang affiliation either a crime itself or an aggravating factor. In doing so, they signal to members of law enforcement, from patrol officers to District Attorneys, that these issues of fact must be addressed during investigations and prosecutions.
Of course, every story has two sides. And this is especially true when it comes to issues of social welfare and criminal justice. For example, some people may argue that a person who is not self-identifying as a gang member will be pushed into criminality if he is lumped in with suspects by police just because of his father's home address or who his cousins are. In addition, almost everyone can agree that our country is experiencing record levels of income disparity and there appears to be fewer opportunities for social advancement for people born in lower income households. With that as a starting point, the concept of further marginalizing what are typically young, economically disadvantaged men instead of giving them meaningful roles in society seems to be counter-productive.
While ORCA presents a meaningful opportunity to focus law enforcement efforts, the potential for abuse, as always, also exists. As local law enforcement continues to develop tools such as the one presented here, this column respectfully suggests that dialogue with members of the community should be emphasized as well. Interestingly, ORCA presents a way to focus on crime prevention; a goal that law enforcement shares with those social welfare organizations involved in meaningful rehabilitation programs and reforms.
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