Order the autumn edition here

About technology and crime prevention

Pre-Crime deals with different facets of statistically based crime prevention work – from the police and social sciences, through technological conditions to practice and impact.


Experienced moviegoers will take notice of the phrase in the title, from the crime prevention work in the Spielberg movie Minority Report from 2002. Those who think this seems bleak can take a look at retired Sheriff Jeff Bridges in David Mackenzies Hell or High Water from last year: He uses sound public knowledge to calculate where the bank robbers will strike next – in other words, the cowboy version of what the brothers Eppes does in the TV series Numb3rs from 2005 (mathematician assists police brother). This documentary addresses different facets of this statistically based business. It is angled from the police and social sciences, through technological conditions to practice and impact. We get the perspective of those affected by the development, of the police patrolling affected areas (which they have always done, now also with data that recommends where to patrol – worse is not), and of those who experience being prejudiced. or harassed by the police. The question is to what extent the technology is clandestine per se. Are there prejudices in the system or real improvements?

It would be dull if the power of order did not take advantage of technology already in the toolbox of fund managers and meteorologists.

The film may not show all the world's news to anyone who reads a newspaper in the new, but gives some significant considerations about the development. Production design, touch graphics and what sound effects you get Pre-Crime to look like a gang of crime films: slightly overbearing, but without degenerating. Despite the elements of redramatization, National Geographic has a long way to go, to put it that way, although some phenomenally misplaced fuzz guitars for the scrolling texts send the associations in that direction. But before that we have had the opportunity to reflect on the price of increased security.

Statistics vs. reality. It becomes a question of the proper procedures to counteract the machinery's weaknesses. A French sociology professor advises on whether the development prevents the power of order from abusing his position, and to what extent the algorithms influence the relationship between police and the public.

Most of us would probably be long in the mask if we were approached by a concerned official and presented with a statistical explanation of the likelihood that you, with such and such friends and this and that fine for cannabis smoking, speeding, illegal gambling or otherwise, are more likely than others to be affected by crime in the future, either as a perpetrator or a victim. Like that orientering – followed by an offer of someone to talk to and an invitation to change circle of friends. We meet Robert, a young man who feels violated and prejudiced after such an experience. The reaction is understandable, but then it is important to look up and see it all in a larger context. As is well known, there are far worse abuses than the fact that someone is presented with simple statistical connections. The inquiry is – subject to frequency, of course – in line with answering questions at customs from time to time, or showing a ticket on the tram when required. Some of us have had our loan applications rejected in a heartless way. In other words, not everything that is perceived as abuse is real abuse, but the costs of living in a state governed by the rule of law.

The conditions of the algorithms. The thoughts are on whether the conditions of the algorithms are so tendentious that they reinforce the development. Robert has plausible objections, which go into how this can cement trends and ultimately provoke new crime. Which in turn can be taken into account for the algorithms working. Thoughts go to the sweltering US prison industry – compare documentaries like DuVernays Det 13. (2016) or Jareckis The lost drug war (2012). It's also a way to keep the wheels going: expanding prison capacity to keep the state economy alive, while the new cornerstone business in the neighboring town is selling narcotics on the corner – to paraphrase The Wirecreator David Simon.

Not everything that is perceived as abuse is abuse, but the cost of living in a rule of law.

The young African American's reactions are highly understandable, in light of the stigma he feels for good reason. Then it is more marvelous to hear how professional people struggle to relate to concepts like modeling or statistics. In discussions about this, it is not long between every time someone attacks the model or statistics so as not to be identical to reality. As if the point of statistics and models is not to quantify a limited aspect of the phenomenon being investigated, preferably one that can be quantified. Along the way in the documentary, we get a timely reminder that the statistics on a field are only 70 percent correct, but this report is most likely aired as a concern for those who are not aware of this wobble, if I understood correctly.

Balanced on old new. What we in Pre-Crime see, is in short police with a little better knowledge than before. The film seems balanced in the sense that it allows both sides to speak out, including a guy in Tottenham who was assaulted by police alone because he carried "tonight's signal". This is unfortunately old news, as reprehensible as it may be, but no objection to information and statistics as such. It is even conceivable that algorithms will be developed to identify unsuitable officers in the troops – that would be "happy tax money" spent on such research. Considering the rapid development that has been in the field of "information technology", it would be dull if the power of order did not make use of technology that has long been part of the toolbox for fund managers and meteorologists.

When the theme is technology and the authorities, we are constantly pegged back to evergreens like "Who's going to control the controllers?" and "A club in itself is neither good nor bad; it's the use of the one who decides. " The discussion around this, even as it is being conducted in the film, will engage as long as the field is developing.

The movie is shown on BIFF in Bergen September 26 to October 4

You may also like