Law enforcement agencies have embraced recent advances in data mining and predictive modeling. One such example is Intrado’s software program Beware that enables the police to perform threat assessments on a household when officers are called to the scene.
This powerful program uses a household address to provide the names of the residents. Then it scans billions of records in publicly available databases to generate a threat level for each person in seconds. While the exact determinations used to generate a threat level are proprietary, social media comments, recent purchases, and criminal records all contribute to generating a green, yellow, or red threat assessment.
The Fresno Police Department was one of the first to test this program in its Real Time Crime Center. While a boon to police officers, the use of this type of technology has been highly controversial.
One concern is that not even the police know what will trigger an assessment that a person is dangerous, since the data mining techniques are a trade secret. Also, individual police departments can craft their own standards for what information is relevant in a threat score. With threat assessments varying by location, oversight is nearly impossible.
Some agencies have used Beware as a fishing expedition. For instance, officers in Colorado used the program to check the license plates of people at a Phish concert.
In some cases, complaints by local citizens have led public officials to decline the use of such technology. The Bellingham City Council took citizens’ concerns so seriously that they redirected grant funds originally meant to purchase Beware.
However, other law enforcement agencies have had great success with Beware. The Fresno Police Department was one of the first in the country to test the program in its Real Time Crime Center. The Washington Post quoted Fresno’s Chief of Police Jerry Dryer as saying that officers could now respond more safely to calls.