Predictive Policing Symposium: Opening Remarks

Photo of Laurie O. Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General/Principal Assistant Attorney General

Laurie O. Robinson
Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs

Remarks for Laurie O. Robinson
Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs
Predictive Policing Symposium

November 19, 2009

Thank you, Kris. I’m so pleased to be here. It’s great to be here with my friends in law enforcement. I’d like to begin by thanking Chief Beck and the LAPD for hosting this symposium. It’s always great to be here in L.A. In fact, I was concerned that my confirmation wouldn’t get through the Senate in time for me to make the trip. I’m thrilled that it did.

I’d also like to offer Chief Beck my congratulations on his appointment, which is much deserved. Chief, I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

I also want to thank your predecessor — Bill Bratton — for his extraordinary service. We all know the incredible job he’s done here in L.A. — and my voice, no doubt, will be lost in the chorus of praise — but I do want you to know, Bill, that the United States Department of Justice is extremely grateful not only for what you’ve accomplished, but for how you’ve accomplished it here in Los Angeles and for America — with characteristic professionalism and an eye always on the big picture.

I’m very excited about this symposium, and I know I speak for my colleagues Kris Rose and Jim Burch when I say how eager we are to begin the discussion. We are, after all, talking about nothing less than the future of policing in America . And even though the Attorney General couldn’t be here, this symposium is very much on his mind. I’ve talked to him about it on several occasions, and I can tell you that he is very anxious to get a report on what we discuss.

Many of you know that the Attorney General held a law enforcement summit back in April — some of you were there — and this topic of predictive policing came up.  Eric Holder is thinking a great deal about where we are in the evolution of law enforcement. He knows, as all of you do, that we’re at a point where some very strategic, and collaborative, thinking is in order.

Crime, nationally, has been trending downward for some time now, but we all know that national trends don’t give us a complete picture of where we stand. Far from it. In fact, we know that beneath the general good news are some very complex challenges that require intensive focus. The Department of Justice, for the last few years, has been content with looking at the bigger trends and ignoring the more intractable problems bucking the trends. But this Administration and this Attorney General know that we must go deeper.

This symposium — like the AG’s law enforcement summit and the White House conference on gang violence and crime control that was held in August — is a continuation of the Administration’s commitment to repairing the relationship between the federal government and state and local law enforcement. And so we want this to be a frank discussion of the issues and how we can address them.

So what are our goals here over the next two days? What are we trying to accomplish?

I think our first order of business is to define what we mean by “predictive policing.” We’ve become so accustomed to labels in law enforcement — community-oriented policing, problem-solving policing, evidence-based policing, intelligence-led policing, and the list goes on. Is predictive policing just another label for another policing model? Or is it a larger concept — something that incorporates many policing paradigms?

Law enforcement leaders are using predictive techniques in a variety of forms, but we don’t necessarily have a handle on all of them. I think that’s another thing we should be talking about here: where is predictive policing — however you define it — being practiced, and what can we learn from those experiences?

We often talk about forecasting and the use of business analytics as a predictive model. But what about privacy and civil liberties issues — how do we ensure that we’re not overstepping? The very phrase, “predictive policing,” raises questions in many people’s minds. How do we assure the public that our goal is to be less intrusive, not more? I’ve mentioned this symposium to several friends back in Washington , by the way, and gotten pretty wary looks — and a couple of allusions to that old Tom Cruise movie, “Minority Report.”

And how do we communicate what we’re doing in terms that the community will understand and accept? I think one of Bill Bratton’s most important achievements as chief in L.A. was improving the department’s legitimacy among residents. I think that really is key to law enforcement effectiveness. How do we convince the public that we’re operating in good faith?

Predictive policing also relies on a variety of tools — information technology, in particular. How do we ensure that these tools are being used with a clear idea of their strategic importance? And how do we at OJP leverage those tools toward more effective law enforcement practices?

Of course, at the bottom of all this is the marriage of science and data with practice. Many of you are leaders in this area. But for all the attention that programs like COMPSTAT have gotten in recent years, this idea of using data analysis to inform crime-fighting is still underapplied. We need to figure out how to take it to the next level. And I’m glad that our predictive policing grantees are here for the next two days to talk about how they will help us do that.

This really is a great opportunity to help define for the field how we should be moving forward to meet the challenges of law enforcement in a new era. I hope that we can come up with some really concrete ways to advance this concept of predictive policing — that we can give it some shape and help our colleagues across the country know how to adapt it to their needs.

We have the best minds here to guide us, and we have the support of the Attorney General and the Administration. I look forward to the discussion, and I thank each of you in advance for your contributions.

Date Created: December 18, 2009