Several Democratic members of Congress are calling on the Justice Department to stop all grants funding predictive policing systems until the agency can ensure they won’t be used “in ways that have a discriminatory impact.”
In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the lawmakers cited concerns that the predictive systems rely on data that is flawed and are therefore “prone to over-predicting crime rates in Black and Latino neighborhoods while under-predicting crime in white neighborhoods.”
The correspondence, which was sent last week and released publicly Monday, was signed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., and five other Democratic senators. It comes after a previous letter that Wyden and Clarke sent to the DOJ in 2021 inquiring about the department’s funding and oversight of the systems. According to a Monday press release from Wyden’s office, the “DOJ failed to answer nearly all of the members’ substantive questions” in its response.
In their new demand that the DOJ halt any funding for the systems, the lawmakers cited Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents the department from funding programs that are discriminatory.
“Until DOJ can ensure that recipients of its grants are in compliance with Title VI, we demand that DOJ pause grants to state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies that could be used to procure or implement predictive policing technologies (person-based or place-based),” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. “We also request that DOJ conduct a thorough inventory of all grants for these systems that it has made to law enforcement agencies since 2009.”
A DOJ spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter but declined further comment.
A 2019 study published in the NYU Law Review, which was cited in the press release, examined how the systems could be built on flawed historical policing data, including illegal policing practices. Among the findings, researchers said they discovered “strong evidence to suggest that the predictive policing system” in Chicago was using so-called “dirty data.”
The researchers ultimately concluded that the “failure to adequately interrogate and reform police data creation and collection practices elevates the risks of skewing predictive policing systems and creating lasting consequences that will permeate throughout the criminal justice system and society more widely.”