Miami’s ”HunchLab” is Latest Police Move Toward Pre-Crime Detection

By Nicholas West

The pace of technological advancement is quickening to the point where the gap between science fiction and reality is being greatly reduced. Philip K. Dick explored the concept of pre-crime in his short story “The Minority Report” in 1956, but it wasn’t until Steven Spielberg offered it on the big screen as Minority Report in 2002 that the audience got a true look at a potential day-to-day existence under corporate and government data management and control.

Even mainstream media has started to compare emerging police technologies to science fiction. The problem is that it can’t be called fiction if it’s actually happening. Hence the Miami Herald’s headline, “Not science fiction: Miami wants to predict when and where crime will occur.”

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Miami, Florida has already made its high-tech police state presence felt by being the first to gain FAA permission to employ drones for policing. This was later reined in just a bit to qualify them to be used only for surveillance after getting a search warrant, and where there is a perceived imminent danger (Source). Nevertheless, for the average person, pre-crime technologies have the potential to be far more invasive (and difficult to rein in) than drones.

Pre-crime Internet systems already continuously scour and collect data for potentially incriminating patterns. And, as you’ll read below, these systems are trickling down to America from war zones overseas.

Researchers at the University of Virginia funded by the U.S. Army recently demonstrated that they can not only gather information from your personal Twitter account just like the NSA, but also aggregate and analyze that information with advanced predictive algorithms designed to determine what you’re going to do next. In this case, the researchers focused specifically on predicting crime by individuals, as well as in crime “hot spots” around the country.

Here’s the kicker. The algorithms being used don’t just look for obvious keyword phrases associated with criminal activity like “I’m going to kill you” or “meet me later and we’ll give him a beat down,” but focus in on routine activities, geo-location, and aggregate historical information to calculate the chance of a particular individual being involved in a crime at some point in the future.

The study was funded by the US Army, which Gerber said uses similar techniques to determine threats in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. (source) [emphasis added]

Some of the U.S. “hot spots” have begun to reveal themselves through public announcements…

Chicago’s “Heat List” is an index of approximately 400 people who have been identified by a computer algorithm as being future threats to commit violent crime. Without having actually committed a crime, some of those on the list have actually been visited by Chicago police warning them that they are being watched.

In California, a sociologist at the University of California, Riverside has been working with the Indio Police Department to offer a computer dragnet that can predict where burglaries are going to happen in the future. Prof. Robert Nash Parker has developed  a “computer model that predicts, by census block group, where burglaries are likely to occur.” Notably, Indio only has a population of 75,000, indicating that no area is to be considered off the radar of the technocratic police state.

And in Arizona, mental health pre-crime systems are searching for people “near the breaking point.” The system can harvest everything from medical records to gun purchases to online posts. Citing the crimes of Jared Loughner and Elliot Rodger, these units are being given the green light with new legislation to involuntarily detain those who are flagged.

Based on the Miami Herald’s article, however, it would appear that other systems are being quietly rolled out nationwide with varying degrees of surveillance and predictive capabilities. The primary danger here is that, unlike drones, there is nothing so obvious to indicate a creeping totalitarianism. Notable, too, is the mention of federal grants; this is something that continues to be resisted in the more obvious grants given to militarize local police departments, but as yet is not getting the same attention when it comes to surveillance tech.

The probability program is a geographical version of “predictive policing” software, which more departments are using — even if, in the words of one supportive cop, it’s “kind of scary.” 

Similar algorithm-based programs have been credited with lowering crime rates in cities around the country, and some South Florida departments recently have adopted their own systems. In Miami’s case, the department is funding the implementation of HunchLab and other software programs with a $600,000 federal grant doled out by the Bureau of Justice Assistance to encourage smart policing tactics. 


Police, of course, have always tried to use data to identify crime trends, and for years Miami police have done that with the data-crunching system known as COMPSTAT. Except, now, instead of identifying where crime hot spots have occurred, they’re looking at where crime will occur.

“It goes beyond just looking at crime data,” MacDonald said.

Just how much — and whether — predictive software really works remains somewhat of a question. But officers in Los Angeles say a program known as PredPol developed by the department and college professors, and now sold to departments around the country, has helped prevent and stop property crimes, and is now being tested on gun crimes.


“We all thought it was somewhat hocus pocus and Minority Report,” she said, referring to the Steven Spielberg sci-fi film in which police used psychic powers to stop murders before they happened. “We could see if PredPol was predicting fairly well. It’s kind of scary, because they were.” (emphasis added)

Scary, more like, because the scope is expanding and these programs continue to be improved upon:

In Miami, MacDonald said that the software the department is using is a more elaborate version of PredPol, which uses only crime data. Miami police also are punching in everything from paydays to school calendars, weather reports and social media. The department also is using the federal grant to establish an offender database.

And there it is: the admission of full-scale integration to social media and the establishment of databases directed from the federal level.

While an ever-expanding YouTube catalog of police brutality videos, martial law drills, and various high-tech weapons systems and vehicles that are arriving from overseas indicate the boot poised to “stamp on a human face forever,” as Orwell envisioned the future – working in tandem is the electronic prison system that is far more subtle, but every bit as enduring and hell-bent on stamping out human freedom.

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