By Tim Cushing
It’s not just American law enforcement agencies turning kids into criminals. They’re doing it in Australia too. In Florida, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office uses software to mark kids as budding criminals, using questionable markers like D-grades, witnessing domestic violence, or being the victim of a crime. The spreadsheet adds it all up and gives deputies a thumbs up to start treating students like criminals, even if they’ve never committed a criminal act.
Over in Australia, the process seems to be a bit more rigorous, but the outcome is the same: non-criminals marked (possibly for life) as potential criminals who should be targeted with more law enforcement intervention.
Victorian police say a secretive data tool that tracked youths and predicted the risk they would commit crime is not being widely used, amid fears it leads to young people from culturally diverse backgrounds being disproportionately targeted.
The tool, which had been used in Dandenong and surrounding suburbs, was only revealed in interviews with police officers published earlier this year.
Between 2016 and 2018, police categorised young people as “youth network offenders” or “core youth network offenders”.
It takes a bit more to be added to this secret list — one police have managed to keep hidden from the general public. Even the program’s name remains a secret. This means parents are never informed when cops decide their kids are criminals-in-development. It also possibly means schools aren’t aware the data they’re feeding the police is being used this way.
According to the research paper detailing the program, Victoria police have classified 40-60 students as “core youth network offenders.” Another 240 students were classified as “youth network offenders.” To get placed on these exclusive lists, students must be charged dozens of times with “offenses,” running from 20 for the 10-14-year-old group to over 60 for 18-year-olds. It’s unclear from the context of the report whether this means criminal offenses or in-school discipline “offenses,” but the latter seems more likely. Someone criminally charged over 60 times before they reached the age of 18 wouldn’t need to be on a secret youth offender list to be on law enforcement’s radar.
The Victoria police appear to believe the tech is actually magic.
“We can run that tool now and it will tell us – like the kid might be 15 – it tells how many crimes he is going to commit before he is 21 based on that, and it is a 95% accuracy,” one senior officer told [researchers]. “It has been tested.”
Actual pre-crime, stripped of all the obfuscating language that normally surrounds statements on profiling/predictive policing programs. This program can actually predict criminal acts… at least according to its proponents and users. Presumably the police aren’t locking up listed students ahead of any wrongdoing, but they’re certainly increasing their interactions and surveillance of students the tool said will commit [x] crimes over the next few years.
And, like every goddamn predictive policing program that exists anywhere, it focuses on minorities and other disadvantaged residents.
In Dandenong, 67% of households spoke a language other than English at home, more than three times the national average, according to the 2016 census. Almost 80% of all residents had parents who were both born overseas, more than double the national average.
The weekly household income was $412 less than the Australian median, and the unemployment rate of 13% was almost double the national figure.
Cheer up. The cops are here to take everything that sucks about life and make it worse. Rather than address the underlying problems, law enforcement appears content to throw a spreadsheet over it and divert resources towards subjecting certain people to a lifetime of harassment. Then, when things inevitably get worse, they can ask for more money to buy more “smart” policing tech garbage that ensures this hideous, regressive loop remains unbroken.