How “Smart” Policing Became “Dumb and Dark”

(Criminal justice news deserving of an in-depth look.)


How ‘smart’ are the arrangements behind predictive models and algorithms in city government? Photo via Flickr.

Robert Brauneis (George Washington University Law School) and Ellen P. Goodman (Rutgers Law School): “Algorithmic Transparency for the Smart City”

“The ‘smart city’ movement worldwide impresses on local governments the importance of gathering and deploying data more effectively…. Most local governments lack the expertise and wherewithal to deploy data analytics on their own. If they want to be ‘smart,’ they need to contract with companies, universities, and nonprofits to implement privately-developed algorithmic processes. The result is that privately developed predictive algorithms are shaping local government actions in such areas as criminal justice, food safety, social services, and transportation. Because the designing entities typically do not disclose their predictive models or algorithms, there is a growing literature criticizing the ‘black box’ opacity of these processes. These black boxes are impervious to question, and many worry that they may be discriminatory, erroneous, or otherwise problematic…. What is smart in the smart city comes to reside in the impenetrable brains of private vendors while the government, which alone is accountable to the public, is hollowed out, dumb and dark.”

Legal Intelligencer: “Ciavarella Wants to Use ‘McDonnell’ in Acquittal Bid”

“Former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Ciavarella, currently serving a 28-year sentence for his role in the ‘kids-for-cash’ scandal, is seeking to invoke in his bid for freedom the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it harder for public officials to be prosecuted for bribery. The decision in McDonnell v. United States, in which the high court overturned former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s bribery conviction, was handed down while Ciavarella was in his fifth year of federal incarceration. The changes that McDonnell brought to prosecuting bribery cases could affect his case, the ex-Luzerne County judge claimed in court papers. McDonnell narrowed the definition of an ‘official act’ done for payment or a favor. Ciavarella was convicted of accepting $2.8 million in kickbacks, along with fellow Judge Michael Conahan, from the builder and former co-owner of a private juvenile detention facility. Ciavarella was sent to prison in 2011.”

Pretrial Justice Institute: “Where Pretrial Improvements are Happening”

“A Pennsylvania bill died that would have required courts to apply seized bail money paid by people convicted of crimes — regardless if they successfully attended all court dates — to the payment of fines, fees, and restitution. Critics of the bill asserted that the legislation constitutes a breach of the bail contract and may make some defendants less likely to post bail, thereby increasing detention and conviction rates.”
UPDATE: The bill has not died, it is undead and revived as House Bill 280 — basically the same bill, slightly different text.


(Criminal justice news to be aware of.)


“A coalition of 16 groups including the ACLU and the Brennan Center for Justice last August joined in a statement warning that [predictive policing] tools exacerbate racial biases, ignore community needs and contribute to the over-policing of poor minority neighborhoods.” Via


  • “Can Atlantic City’s bold experiment take racial bias out of predictive policing?”
  • Tribune-Review: “Pennsylvania court: Life in prison still a prospect for juvenile killers”
  • WTAE: “‘It’s like Russian roulette:’ AG brings first drug delivery death case in Allegheny County”
  • Post-Gazette: “City revives effort to quell gun violence by aggressively targeting gang members”
  • Post-Gazette: “Superior Court vacated juvenile lifer resentencing”
  • Philly: “Can a fake court help high-risk Pennsylvania parolees?”


  • ACLU: “Baltimore Police Caught By Their Own Body Cameras Planting Evidence: Lessons”
  • More ACLU: “Lexington County’s Draconian Debtors’ Prison Flies in the Face of Common Sense and Decency”
  • Wired: “How Peter Thiel’s Secretive Data Company Pushed Into Policing”
  • The Atlantic: “Innocence Is Irrelevant: This is the age of the plea bargain—and millions of Americans are suffering the consequences.”
  • Charlotte Observer: “Citizen panel questions police investigation that cleared officer who shot Keith Scott”
  • Chicago Tribune: “Sanctuary cities, Rahm and power politics”
  • Vera Institute for Justice: “Just Kids: When Misbehaving Is a Crime”
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Three years later, Ferguson slowly moves from spotlight while under watchful eye of feds”
  • EBONY: “It’s Been 3 Years Since Mike Brown Died & Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed”
  • The Guardian: “‘Straight up bullshit’: inmates paid $1 to clear homeless camps they once lived in”
  • Miami New Times: “Miami Sex Offenders Form Community in Makeshift Tent Neighborhood”
  • The Hill: “What ever happened to mass incarceration reform?”
  • North Jersey Record: “Bail bond industry mounts another attack on N.J. reforms”

Trump Criminal Justice Watch

  • Vox: “Fewer immigrants are being deported under Trump than under Obama But it’s not because Trump isn’t trying.”
  • The Intercept: “These are the technology firms lining up to build Trump’s ‘extreme vetting’ program”
  • Cato Institute: “The Overcriminalization of Impeachment”
  • Slate: “Sessions’ Marijuana Crackdown May Still Be Coming”
  • American Prospect: “Ignoring Police Violence: Baltimore officials accepted a voluntary settlement to reduce police abuses. Jeff Sessions wants to kill it.”
  • Reason: “Jeff Sessions Is Taking Law Enforcement Back to the 1980s: On asset forfeiture, prison sentences, and police oversight, Trump’s beleaguered attorney general is rolling back decades of progress.”
  • The New York Times: “Trump Wants to Get Tough on Crime. Victims Don’t Agree.”
  • FiveThirtyEight: “While Some Communities Become Sanctuaries, Others Are Happy To Help With Trump’s Immigration Crackdown”

The Appeal is a weekly newsletter keeping you informed about criminal justice news in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. It is written and compiled by Matt Stroud, ACLU-PA’s criminal justice researcher, and ACLU-PA’s summer criminal justice interns, Emilia Beuger, Midge Carter, and Andrew Arslanpay.

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