Policing and Technology

The Stanford-Harvard Project on Technology and PolicingFrom the FBI to the NYPD to small town police departments, law enforcement agencies across the country are adopting new technologies at a rapid pace. Tools including facial recognition software, algorithmically driven hotspot policing, and social media monitoring are now common policing tools for big and small departments alike. This technology is causing on-the-ground policing practices to race ahead of law, policy, and oversight. The policy guidance that does exist is often technology-specific, use-specific, or is narrowly responsive to concerns resulting from a particular incident or controversy. This policy space lacks flexible, forward-thinking guidance that can cut across multiple technologies and operate on a more holistic level.

The Stanford-Harvard Project on Technology and Policing (PTP) was created to fill the gaps in police technology policy. PTP is a collaborative effort of Stanford Law School’s Criminal Justice Center and Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program and Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. By bringing together law enforcement, state and local officials, lawyers, activists, technologists, community groups, and academics, we hope to identify issues affecting multiple technologies and jurisdictions and generate policy guidance that will be broadly useful for a variety of agencies, technologies, and communities.

In October 2017, PTP held a roundtable policy discussion about policing technology with 24 national experts. Participants included local and state policymakers, law enforcement leaders, activists, academics, a technologist, and industry representatives with diverse backgrounds and a range of perspectives. The full group discussed a host of complicated issues that have emerged from the use of new policing technologies and then broke into smaller groups to discuss working papers written by Stanford and Harvard law students on the topics of data governance, public-private partnerships, funding and procurement, and social media. All of the Roundtable participants agreed that there is a critical need for policy guidance surrounding the adoption and use of new policing technologies, and the discussion generated ideas for the path forward in developing such policies. The PTP developed a toolkit provides concrete guidance to police chiefs as they consider the acquisition of new technology. It examines the interconnected issues that arise from the use of data-collection technologies — costs, governance, and community — and provides helpful practices for addressing them.