Stop. Frisk. Double-Click.

The amazing organizing and coalition-building going on around stop and frisk policies in New York City inspired me to write “Stop. Frisk. Double-Click.” for the MIT Press Blog yesterday.

Stop and frisk is a controversial policy where officers detain and search people based on subjective evaluations of public behavior: furtive movements, “casing” a location, and bulges in clothing. The number of stop and frisks has increased by 704% over the last decade: from 97,296 stops in 2002 to 684,724 in 2011. According to New York Civil Liberties Union, there have been 4,356,927 stops during the Bloomberg administration alone.

Some facts from the ACLU’s stop and frisk campaign:

  • Though stop and frisks are ostensibly about controlling gun violence, in only 1.9% of cases does a frisk turn up a weapon.
  • 88% percent of people stopped in 2011 were guilty of no crime.
  • 87% percent of people stopped in 2011 were Black and Latino, and the majority of people detained are young men.

Stop and frisk raises important questions about how we want law enforcement to work, and who pays the price for  “zero-tolerance” approaches to crime. But part of the problem is CompStat, a system of law enforcement management and record keeping pioneered in New York City in the mid-1990s.

Public services — such as law enforcement, education, healthcare and public assistance — are increasingly being computerized. Automatic speeding tickets come in the mail. Doctors lug laptops into the exam room. Mostly we talk about whether these innovations work; sometimes we wonder about their impacts on privacy and confidentiality. But are these the wrong questions?

I write in the article,

At the heart of the matter is the quality of our citizenship, the nature of our relationship with the state and its representatives. Fact is, we are governed by systems like CompStat. They set the rules of engagement between us and the bureaucracies that maintain order, distribute resources, and shape our communities.

I’m just starting a new book, tentatively titled Disconnect: How Computers are Transforming Public Services, where I’ll look into these issues in depth. So tell me your story! How are computers changing your relationship with the police, your teachers, elected officials, your doctor? If you work in public and human services, how have the new technologies changed the nature of your job?

Comment here, or email me at virginia [at]!


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