Hot-Spot Policing

from the 4th issue for November 2013:

WE SEE LITTLE NEED TO YET AGAIN articulate our opposition to the police or reasons for such. Years of engagement have left this conversation dry. As we watch the world change around us it has become clear that now more than ever we need to view the police not merely as a collection of individuals in uniforms but an apparatus felt beyond our smaller daily scale. Our lives, and the way we desire to live them, are diametrically opposed to the concept of living a surveilled and contained existence. We fight against all structures within this society in order to destroy such apparatuses. Such is what it means to be an anarchist inside this newly globalized political and economic society. Such is what it meant to fight 100 years ago against the structures that wished to define us in those contexts. What we are doing here is not giving explanation to things you and we already know, but creating better and more strategic fronts in which to move from and inside.

It is easy to lump police and their practices all together. To dehumanize them into the arm of a larger more dangerous beast makes sense, and is in itself a form of strategy. But to not delve more deeply into the minituae of localized initiatives is a disservice to our struggle against them.
There has been a lot of national attention on the Seattle PD in recent years. Specifically from Federal investigators being brought in to study the allegations of abuse of power and overstepping of protocol. This has made a mark on the SPD and the ways that the broader Seattle population views them. Federal investigations and Civilian Review Boards are obviously not ours, and in no way are we interested in any dialogue that strengthens this or any other police force. But the possibility lies in what can be gleaned from its findings. Trends as they emerge in law enforcement circles that can be identified in one area of a city can be applied to others, and even more broadly looking at the ways that their techniques are developed and then shared on a national basis has the possibility of creating a broader critique that may be applied in local strategies.
A current trend of “hot spot policing” or predictive policing as it is called in one such instance, has become standard in many police departments across the country. It is manifested in different ways based on different locales and deployed with a variety of maneuvers based on those locales. In short, the idea is one that smaller police departments have known for years. Places where beat cops are still common, especially in smaller municipalities have amongst themselves created means to identify “problem areas”. Neighborhoods they are called to repeatedly, corners where the most business is done. The difference in these new moves have been the mechanization of this process into a systematic decision making structure. Instead of individual cops making the call on what parts of the city need their attention the most, data is more broadly collected and the information is fed into computer GIS mapping programs. A practical black box of algorithms is stuffed with information about past crime trends, neighborhood hangouts, economic brackets, development, etc. and out comes a definitive map of where officers are most “needed”. Those neighborhoods and intersections are flooded with police and surveillance in an effort to stem the tide of crime. Patrols are increased and the number of officers available to respond to given areas skyrockets.

The data is preliminary on their end, but the results they are receiving from this tactic are astronomically in their favor. It is ‘working’, and doing so well. Their arrest numbers are increasing, and by their numbers the crime statistics are dropping radically.
Discussions amongst police chiefs on a national scale are becoming more common. We are used to the calls from departments for mutual aid in times of certain levels of upheaval. More cops coming in from outside the city for a demo, or after a few rowdy nights. But something we are possibly missing is the coordinated effort of departments to share information and strategize around people like us and other criminals on a much larger scale and duration. And all of these conversations and conference calls must originate somewhere; the idea has to grow from some local effort. In terms of this hot spot trend, now so common to most of us, the impetus was largely academic and based on the research of criminologists looking towards none other than Seattle as a model. It was investigations into Juvenile offenders in the Seattle area that pushed some of the first investigations in this field.
We never could have stopped this, the money invested and structures are too large. But we could have done something. Often we look outward, towards the places with the most activity, most demos, most sabotage. This has our gaze forever extended towards places beyond the political and geographical borders that we live inside of. Ours is a struggle articulated drastically differently depending on social (and anti-social) factors as well as the economic and cultural terrains of each place, making that outward look a worthwhile endeavor. The ability for us to maneuver more easily, to strike with more efficiency on these national and even international scales could be increased with more local vigilance. What could solidarity look like if we were able to more accurately identify trends in their policy shifts and confront them on a more intimate scale? Is it possible that the police saturation of certain neighborhoods in cities outside the northwest could have been forestalled by an ever increasing presence of conflictual elements in the places where the research was being conducted?

The answers to these and other questions of strategy can only only come from a broader and more thorough attentiveness on the part of anarchists in this city and well beyond. Experimentation with the focus of creative energies, and the methods employed in such endeavors are assets that the decentralized and fluid nature of our politics and their manifestations that should not be ignored. This is not a a call for another campaign against a police tactic, but a thought attempting to articulate what might be possible if we all paid a little more attention and believed in the capacity we hold as individuals and in the small crews we have been cultivating. It is a call to see what is possible.

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