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Could AI and Predictive Analytics Stop Sex Offenders?


Predictive policing has come a long way in recent years. Police have always known when and where to step up patrols in certain city areas, for example, by applying simple predictive equations such as: payday + alcohol = trouble. You didn’t need to be a data scientist to anticipate a skirmish or three in bars on Friday night. But developments in data analytics and artificial intelligence are refining how law enforcement uses data and applies predictive analytics in a range of areas, focusing not just on overall trends but on individuals — and in the process renewing ethical concerns.

One area where predictive tools have caught on is with sex offenders. The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office in Evansville, Indiana, for instance, this month joined a growing list of law enforcement agencies that have signed up with OffenderWatch, a sex offender registry network, for its Focus product, which the company says can help police better manage oversight of sex offenders.

OffenderWatch collects sex-offense data from more than 3,500 agencies, including information on about 60 percent of all sex offenders and other data from federal, state and local sources. Focus draws on that information and applies predictive analytics to over 100 risk factors in an individual sex offender’s record, the company says. It then comes up with a score that is added to an offender’s record, so police searching the system can identify those with highest risk factors. The sheriff’s office has been able to better identify and monitor high-risk offenders since it began using the system last fall, according to OffenderWatch’s release.

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  1. CR

    This sounds like Minority Report.

    I’ve never heard of OffenderWatch, but it sounds positively invasive, dangerous, and frightening to be unknowingly assigned a risk rating by it that may influence cops to harass you, monitor you, or otherwise single you out for special attention or treatment.

    • Mike

      I was at the post office 2 days ago sending back some clothes my wife bought that didn’t fit. An off duty cop noticed me in line and waited on the other side of the counter until i was done. When i left, I went out the door and then came back in after 30 seconds just to see the cop asking the post office official about my packages. He even felt one to see what it was.

      I do nothing except breath in my little town. I don’t even have a traffic ticket. I don’t understand why I would get hassled by a local cop.

      • David

        Mike, I wonder if the actions of that cop checking the package you mailed would be considered an “unlawful search”? Once the US post office staff have taken possession of the package from you, I believe it would then be within the jurisdiction of the United States Postmaster General and/or federal law enforcement. In other words, not within the jurisdiction of local law enforcement – especially if no search warrant exists.

        • CR

          Whether or not mail or a parcel can be opened depends on what class it is, whether it is entering or leaving the country, and on whether or not there are “exigent circumstances”. Examples of the latter might be a package that is ticking or making noises, vibrating, or leaking substances.

          “4. Can Postal Inspectors open mail if they feel it may contain something illegal?
          First-Class letters and parcels are protected against search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and, as such, cannot be opened without a search warrant. If there is probable cause to believe the contents of a First-Class letter or parcel violate federal law, Postal Inspectors can obtain a search warrant to open the mailpiece. Other classes of mail do not contain private correspondence, and therefore may be opened without a warrant.”

          The above refers to postal inspectors. I don’t know if a police officer who is not a postal inspector can open your parcel without a warrant, and I don’t know if inspecting your package by handling and feel is legal.

          It’s a good question.

      • TS

        What is an off-duty cop doing behind the USPS counter to begin with is the first question. If they are off-duty, then they should not be back there. If they have an official need to be back there, then they are on duty. If they are inspecting your postal package as it was seen without a warrant, you have a grievance against this particular post office and can place a complaint against them with the postal inspectors and postmaster.

        You’re w/in your rights to ask the postmaster of that branch about this situation. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, then go above them to the USPS HQ to ask the postmaster there or even the USPS Postal Inspector for clarification. If you are not comfortable asking the local postmaster to avoid rocking the boat for yourself, go national and ask. They will answer you and correct any actions which may be against postal regs. Local cops do not have jurisdiction in the post office when it comes to mail. That is an official federal function. I say this officer was out of line.

      • Renny

        There could be multiple violations here… but there is one fact that is a clear violation. A non-USPS citizen(off duty cop is a citizen, not a cop) was granted access to the depot’s facility and allowed to TOUCH your mail.

        Report the post office. That clerk committed a crime by allowing that citizen to molest your mail.

  2. AlexO

    Better to hurt a thousand innocent people than let one guilty person go free.

    • AJ

      Yes, which is the exact opposite of what our judicial system is based on: better to let 1000 guilty go free than to convict 1 innocent.

      • TS


        That’s because the class on Blackstone commentaries was cancelled due to lack of interest since he wrote it in England, not New England. Wrong side of the pond for American interest.

  3. Facts should matter

    Do we really need more Minority Report, junk/pseudo science? Absolutely not, but they WILL attempt to sell this as another “safety tool” to be used against registrants. This is creepy and cringey territory we’re entering.

  4. Registries for all! 😡

    Okay, so does LE believe this more accurately predicts sex offender risk? If so, why do they continue to use STATIC-99 – why don’t they switch to this? (Or do they simply prefer to use whichever one gives them the results/answer they want to see??)

    • CR

      The tools serve different purposes.

      The purpose of the Static-99R is to assign the highest risk factor possible to a person who has committed a sexual offense by applying it at time of release from incarceration, when it is the highest it will ever be. That the test-determined risk level decreases over time is ignored; the test is never re-administered in order to adjust the risk level. The effect is that the person is put in the highest tier possible corresponding to his Static-99R risk factors at time of release. Forever.

      So the Static-99R serves the state’s needs to keep people on the registry as long as possible, and with the highest number of restrictions possible. That ensures that the punishment (which everyone knows is not the intent of the law) is maximized for each individual “offender”.

      Obviously, since the Static-99R rating determined at time of release to the community has little bearing on a person’s actual risk of re-offense (because it is unsubstantiated pseudo-science bullshit), and all enforcers know this, it is of little use to the enforcers who are tasked with monitoring those who pose a real (true, actual) risk to the public. So they need a different tool. One that they believe can predict who will really re-offend.

      Sensing blood, and profit, an organization emerged to benefit financially from creating the really truly valid and indisputably accurate and scientific (based on over 100 factors by golly!) rating that enforcers can rely on, without question.

      So there’s your new tool. The Offender Watch, aka Minority Report, super-scientific (based on over 100 factors!) risk assessment rating that enforcers can rely on to identify the real dangerous folk on the registry.

      With over a 100 factors in the mix, I’m sure they can make anyone they like float to the top of the risk pool.

      • David Kennerly, The Government-Driven Life

        What this is is another piece of kit to sell at astronomical prices to police departments. The cops aren’t paying for it out of their own pockets and it looks good on stats and in the media. There’s a huge industry that does nothing but sell software to law enforcement that fails to deliver meaningful results but provides the illusion of engaged and forward-thinking policing. That’s what this is.

        • Tim Moore

          Static 99 like Offender Watch both review their own products and guess what, they give themselves rave reviews. Who would have known.
          As an aside, I have observed that on a Friday night there are no patrol cars within 1000 feet of the local bar, yet you can always count on them to knock on the door of a registrant who has been clean for two decades, just to see if his paperwork is up to date. Preventive policing at work.

        • fishy

          LMAO @ Tim Moore. It’s funny because it’s true. Reminds me of some of the “five star” products that are for sale on Amazon. Particularly common with the newly available iPhone cases; they come with “rave reviews” … yet when you get them, they are complete crap. My guess is that the manufacturers somehow review themselves.

          Similarly, we see Karl Hanson and his Static-99 cohorts, usually as coauthors, writing “rave reviews” about their Static-99R scheme in so-called “studies.” Other researchers happily join in and/or knowingly (or unknowingly) cite Hanson and his cohorts as “proof” that the Static-99R is “validated.” Yet no one calls out this blatant conflict-of-interest. CASOMB certainly has no problem in it, as its SARATSO tool/committee shamelessly cites Hanson and/or cohort’s “studies:”

          (HINT: Anytime you see a “study” with Amy Phenix, Yolanda Fernandez, Andrew J. R. Harris, Maaike Helmus, R. Karl Hanson, & David Thornton–either as an author or coauthor–then it *IS* in blatant conflict-of-interest.)

      • Registries for all! 😡

        Pseudoscience indeed! Has no one ever heard of the scientific concept of validation?

  5. LostandDevastated

    As a data scientist myself I’m appalled to see predictive analytics applied in this fashion. Similar methods have been applied to fields such as finance so one company can get a slightly higher probability as compared to another in order to determine whether to sell or not. Using analytics to predict whether someone will reoffend is alarming!

  6. fishy

    Well, at least 100 “risk factors” . . . not just 10 risk factors as is the case in the Static 99R scam.

    It’s all pseudo in the end.

    • CR

      Even if 100, it doesn’t say they are equally weighted. Nor any mention of the basis for selecting the factors, or scholarly papers discussing them, or peer review, etc. It could be far worse than Static-99R. We have no way of knowing.

      • LostandDevastated

        I can guarantee they’re not equally weighted. If they’re doing predictive analytics they’re most likely using some kind of neural net. Essentially you put in observations you want your model to fit. You specify certain model parameters and you essentially train your model by trying different weights for each factors. In these types of modeling schemes you have to be very careful about either overfitting (biasing) your model or underfitting (limited data). The inputs of the weights are most likely age, socioeconomic, and other criminal convictions.

        • Facts should matter

          They’re trying to equate this:

 (which is a subset of game theory), with this so-called “proactive preventative policing” nonsense software they’ve concocted which will never, ever be 100% accurate, definitive or conclusive in preventing a future sex crime. Too many variables with an unreliable forecast model because of the algorithm’s high margin of error.

          Why? You simply cannot equate a reliable and dependable forecast because each “offender” has different – and exclusive – risk dynamics and criminogenic needs.

          I personally feel this software will flag people that pose zero risk of re-offending and would be a dangerous tool in the hands of LEO. It would only serve to bolster their recidivism argument and reinforce the pre-emptive and anticipatory nature of Megan’s Law – which is a flawed premise to begin with.

  7. David Kennerly, The Government-Driven Life

    What’s weird is that they say nothing about this product, “Focus” on their webpage. They say nothing about predictive capabilities using “OffenderWatch.” Regardless, it’s bullshit.

  8. David

    Once again, they’re spending all this time, effort and money focusing on those who have already been convicted and punished. If their true goal is to prevent sexual abuse, why are they not attempting to prevent the 97+% of sexual abuse that is perpetrated by family members, friends, teachers, coaches and clergy NOT listed on the Registry? Because such a high percentage of cases are committed by those NOT on the Registry, even if their AI methods are 100% accurate and successful, they would still only be reducing the occurrence of sexual abuse by 2-3%.

  9. Q

    My opinion based on empirical statistics over the years shows me this is just another junk science scheme. According to popular opinion those of us forced to register are raping countless little girls on a daily basis; the evidence shows the total opposite is true. The vast majority of those forced to register have never repeated the act that landed us on the lie called the sex offender registry and are no more likely to do so as the next person who is not on the registry. Unfortunately for registrants everywhere politicians and LE seem to love and embrace junk science.

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