Studying the impact of police surveillance on racial bias using open data

How do new policing technologies affect racial bias in police-citizen encounters? Proponents claim that such technologies are ‘colorblind’ and thus should reduce racial or ethnic bias in policing. However, numerous accounts document that these technologies are often used as a legitimate cause to target communities of color, only reinforcing existing inequalities. In this project, we propose the first country-wide study to measure the effects of new technologies on racial biases in law enforcement using large open-source data. Building on the public data published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we follow the adoption of policing technologies – including face recognition, drones, body-worn cameras, predictive policing, and home security partnerships – across more than two thousand police departments between 2000 and 2022. Combined with high-resolution data on individual traffic stops, arrests, and other law enforcement actions, this allows us to estimate the shifts in racial biases that result from each of these new tools being adopted by police agencies over time. Our results, data, and tools will become part of the open “data hub” dedicated to fostering the evidence-based design of racially equitable policing and justice systems.

MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307