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Fort Lauderdale Police: Ultramodern Crime-Solving; Now Ethics?

What if Fort Lauderdale Police mapped the city's gun owners and increased patrols only in those neighborhoods where guns were concentrated?

And if those neighborhoods were mostly black? Or Hispanic? Or white?

How about if cops, taking advantage of a smart partnership with big data experts IBM, targeted crime-heavy neighborhoods to the exclusion of your neighborhood?

In what the city is rightfully pitching as a forward-thinking move, Fort Lauderdale is working with IBM to analyze city crime patterns and solve cold cases. "We're entering a new era of police work where advances in technology are providing us with an additional tool to use in our crime prevention efforts," Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley said in a news release. "Integrating advanced data analysis into our operational strategies will help us maximize resources and stay one step ahead of the criminals."

Miami has also been working with IBM for a while to analyze crime trends, using Predictive Analytics Lead Modeling Software. They call it "Blue Palms,"

But Information Week recently noted the problems with this technique.

In the enthusiasm around big data, there has been little discussion about what that data might uncover. Privacy issues will surface as data analytics becomes able to reveal identities by combining what was previously considered anonymous data with location and purchasing information.

Indeed, in two recent investigations of Fort Lauderdale crime, questions have been raised about how the force uses laws. In one, officers admitted using a bicycle registration law to stop primarily blacks (actually, 86 percent of those stopped were black (by the way, that is the topic of the New Times cover story this week.)

In another, Lauderdale Police acknowledged not precisely tracking overtime pay. This opened it to charges that it looked the other way while bouncers beat patrons on Fort Lauderdale Beach.

The IBM data agreement is a good idea. Now it is up to the politicians and force leaders to make sure it is employed in the right way. Their history on this front is not good.

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