Pre-Crime addresses different facets of crime prevention work based on statistics, from the police to social sciences, via technological conditions, to practice and effect.
A trained cinema audience will recognize that the title of the documentary Pre-Crime is taken from the crime prevention work in the Spielberg film Minority Report made in 2002. Those who might think this seems dark can seek comfort in watching a retired Jeff Bridges as a sheriff in David Mackenzie´s Hell or High Water from last year. Here, he simply uses common sense to calculate where the bankers are going to hit next time–in other words, the cowboy version of what the Eppes brothers did in the 2005 series Numb3rs (a mathematician assists his police brother). Pre-Crime addresses the different facets of this statistically based work: from the perspective of the police as well as social sciences, via technological conditions, to practice and effect. We get the perspective of those affected by the development, namely, of the police that are patrolling the affected areas (like they have always done, now also with data that recommends where they should patrol), and those who experience being prejudged or harassed by the police. The question is: to what extent can we blame the consequences on technology per se? Is the use of technology simply making a system out of prejudice or is it a real improvement?
What the film presents may not be all that new to anyone that reads a newspaper from time to time, but it shows some significant considerations about the developments. Also, we are given the opportunity to reflect on the price of the increased security.
«It would be rather negligent for law inforcement not to make use of the technology that is already part of the toolbox for fund managers and meteorologists.»
Production design, snappy graphics and sound effects give Pre-Crime the look of the usual crime movie, but while it is a little exhausting, it doesn’t degenerate completely. Despite the use of dramatizations, the film is nothing like a cheesy National Geographic documentary, although some phenomenally misplaced fuzz guitars during the closing credits bring those overly dramtic films to mind.
Statistics vs. Reality
Questions about the right procedures to counteract the weaknesses of the statistical algorithms arise. A French sociology professor makes the point that it is necessary to ask the right questions regarding the algorithms in order to prevent law enforcement from misusing their position–to what extent will the algorithms affect the relationship between the police and the public?
Most of us would probably be taken by surprise if we were to be confronted by a concerned police officer who was presenting a statistical explanation of the likelihood that you–having such and such friends, and having been given this or that fine for smoking cannabis, speeding, illegal gambling or otherwise–have a greater probability than others to be affected by crime in the future, either as an offender or as a victim. Simply for your information, followed by the offer of someone you can talk to and the advice to change your friends.
We get to know Robert, a young African-American man who feels both violated and prejudged after such an experience. The reaction is understandable, but that´s when it’s important to take a glance outwards and view it in a larger context. There are far worse offenses that can happen than someone being presented with simple statistical contexts. This is (subject to the frequency of course) similar to having to answer questions from customs agents from time to time, or showing your ticket on the tram when it is required. Some of us have also gotten our loan applications refused in heartless ways. Not everything that is perceived as an offense is a real offense, but rather the cost of living in a constitutional state.
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