About Discursive Storylines and Techno-Fixes: The Political Framing of the Implementation of Predictive Policing in Germany

Abstract

One important reason for the current rise of predictive policing in Germany is the recent boost in the development of digital technologies and the associated possibility of analysing huge data sets at relatively low cost by utilising mathematically deduced algorithms. Economic motives also play a vital role in the implementation process, as it is hoped that policing can be organised more rationally by the more effective allocation of police patrols. However, in addition to technical and economic factors, the rise of predictive policing in Germany is above all a political phenomenon, involving the discursive shaping of domestic burglary as a security problem. Furthermore, the ways, how the technologies utilised for predictive crime data analysis are discursively referred to, play a vital role in this discourse. These new prediction tools facilitate rhetorical links for politicians and police authorities in legitimising their ambitions to fight crime and enhance public security, presenting their methods as innovative and effective and making these technologies important components of corresponding security discourses.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Parts of this paper have already been published in German in Egbert (2017).

  2. 2.

    In the case of ‘Minority Report’, however, it is noticeable that positive as well as negative connotations are present when this short story and film are associated with predictive policing.

  3. 3.

    The reference source cited refers to the author’s internal coding system for empirical data and applies to the corresponding interview log and line number.

  4. 4.

    The most prominent example of such individual-related predictive policing approaches is the “strategic subject list”—or “heat list”, as colloquially labelled—with which the Police Department of Chicago tries to identify probable perpetrators and victims of homicides by drawing on indicators like gang membership, criminal record and past homicides in their families and circles of acquaintances (Saunders et al. 2016; Chicago Data Portal 2017).

  5. 5.

    Although this may be the case in some instances, I do not want to imply that the rhetorical connection of rising case numbers of domestic burglaries and predictive policing is per se based on instrumentalisation or is purely power-driven. To the contrary, on a more abstract level I want to point out the mixture of rhetorical topoi and the discursive dynamic resulting from it.

  6. 6.

    All quotations in the remainder of this paper are translations from German by the author.

  7. 7.

    Now that the CDU is in government in NRW, the statements in the coalition agreement with the FDP (Freiheitliche Demokratische Partei [Free Democratic Party]) concerning predictive policing sound much more restrained: “We will complete the ongoing pilot project on predictive policing and will take a decision soon, on the basis of the resulting evaluation, about implementation.” (CDU and FDP 2017, p. 62).

  8. 8.

    Although the implementation of predictive policing in Germany is not framed by highlighting “existential threats” and although no “established rules of the game (of politics)” are broken, the basic rhetorical structure of the discursive framing of the need of predictive policing can be grasped as illustrating the process of “securitization” in the sense of Buzan et al. (1998, 23f.).

  9. 9.

    It has to be added here that, from a criminological perspective, it is rather unclear whether the current increase in case numbers of domestic burglaries is actually based on the activities of Eastern European burglars, as the corresponding conviction rates are very low; this means that there is insufficient certainty about the identities of the offenders (Bartsch et al. 2014).

  10. 10.

    This observation was also made in course of the introduction of CCTV systems in Great Britain (Norris and Armstrong 1999, 63f.), and there are of course several more empirical examples of such a rhetorical accompaniment of implementation processes of security technologies.

  11. 11.

    In fact, the empirical findings about the displacement effect of situational crime prevention measures like predictive policing argue against the displacement hypothesis, highlighting the spatial “diffusion of benefits” (Guerette and Bowers 2009; an overview of empirical findings can be found in Johnson et al. 2014). Referring to the near repeat hypothesis, one argument for denying a strong displacement effect of predictive policing is to highlight the difficulties burglars experience in finding alternative targets at short notice (G28: 34f.).

  12. 12.

    With the semiotic term ‘actant‘, Latour refers to non-human entities participating in certain context of interaction by making a difference, for example as they change the behavior of the human participants.

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Acknowledgements

The research for this paper was funded by the Fritz Thyssen foundation (Award Number 10.16.2.005SO).

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Egbert, S. About Discursive Storylines and Techno-Fixes: The Political Framing of the Implementation of Predictive Policing in Germany. Eur J Secur Res 3, 95–114 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41125-017-0027-3

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Keywords

  • Security discourse
  • Security technologies
  • Predictive policing
  • Crime risks
  • Political framing
  • Domestic burglary