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The Los Angeles Police Department Says It Is Dumping A Controversial Predictive Policing Tool

PredPol is one of the oldest and most controversial predictive policing companies. The LAPD just said it will stop using it because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted on April 21, 2020, at 7:34 p.m. ET

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LAPD officers.

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The Los Angeles Police Department announced today it would be ending its use of PredPol’s predictive policing tool — which the company claims uses artificial intelligence to predict crime, but which critics have called "fundamentally flawed."

An LAPD memo dated April 15 quoted Police Chief Michel R. Moore saying that the police department would stop using the software, effective immediately, not because of concerns that activists have raised but because of financial constraints due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"The city's financial crisis, coupled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has resulted in the immediate freeze of new contractual agreements and 'belt-tightening' instructions by the Mayor to all city departments for all further expenditures," the memo said. "Therefore, the Department will immediately discontinue the use of PredPol and its associated reports."

Hamid Khan, a campaign coordinator with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, an activist group, said he believes the group’s organizing prompted the LAPD to stop using PredPol, not the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Predictive policing has roundly been discredited,” Khan told BuzzFeed News. “This [decision] was clearly [the result of] the organizing that was done. This was clearly the community rising up.”

Activist groups like Stop LAPD Spying have petitioned for the de-escalation of policing in the city, including the discontinuation of PredPol. The LAPD ended its use of “Los Angeles’ Strategic Extraction and Restoration” zones last April, which mapped crime hot spots and sent police to those locations, even if a crime hadn't happened there. In October, Stop LAPD Spying organized a group of 450 academics to sign a letter that rejected the thinking behind PredPol’s algorithm.

The LAPD’s decision to discontinue the use of PredPol is a turnabout for the agency, which was one of its early adopters and signed a contract with the company in 2011. The LAPD hasn’t yet explained the move, but internal audits obtained by news outlet MuckRock last year suggested the agency has struggled to measure PredPol’s effect on crime — or prove that it works.

PredPol has claimed its algorithms could predict crime in 500-by-500-foot city plots — and that by sending police to these areas, it could help prevent crimes before they happen. Police departments around the country have found that a compelling proposition, and agencies from California, Washington, Utah, and Georgia have signed up to test it.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.