A handful of Democratic legislators have sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DoJ) seeking answers to what steps the agency takes to ensure predictive policing technology is effective, and whether it tests for bias and requires transparency in algorithms used in the technology.

The letter from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Reps. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. questions DOJ’s predictive policing practices after “multiple audits of these systems” that the legislators said found no evidence that use of the systems prevent crime.

“We ask DOJ to help ensure that any predictive policing algorithms in use are fully documented, subjected to ongoing, independent audits by experts, and made to provide a system of due process for those impacted,” the members of Congress wrote. “If DOJ cannot ensure this, DOJ should halt any funding it is providing to develop and deploy these unproven tools,” they said.

The lawmakers highlighted police department inspector general investigations in Los Angeles and Chicago that they said raise concerns about these systems, including that they may lack adequate data to evaluate the programs. The cities of Oakland, Calif., and New Orleans both passed legislation banning the use of predictive policing in 2020, while Pittsburgh is considering a similar ban.

They asked for a response from DoJ by May 28 to a lengthy series of questions on predictive policing systems. Those include detailed questions about: data collection and fusion center technology; the extent to which DoJ provides funding to localities for systems; software, systems, and technologies used to run underlying algorithms; and testing for efficacy, validity, reliability, and bias.

Read More About
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.