11 September, 2020

Local power in the age of digital policing


 The progressive possibility of digital enforcement isn’t to expand the coverage and efficiency of policing but rather to narrow the scope of what is enforced, and ensure the design of those enforcement systems prevents abuse. Instead of “policing difference” in the name of safety we should only deploy technology that enforces, and measures progress towards a more inclusive form of urbanism that is truly safer for all.

As Reich, Weismantel, and a generation of planners, engineers, and advocates have shown us, we know how to build safer streets and cities, and none of it requires policing or new forms of surveillance. At the same time we must recognize, as Reich documented in his work on justice for public benefits recipients, that policing is about more than uniforms and guns. Reform must begin with the laws themselves, and a recognition of the many ways we "police" streets. It also requires confronting the economically regressive roots of traffic enforcement based on fees and fines, and the resulting criminalization of poverty—immoral in and of itself, but also a tool deployed as a proxy for illegal forms of explicit racial discrimination. Many cities rely on these fines a critical source of revenue, and there's evidence of increased fiscal dependence on fines as cities face dramatic revenue shortfalls due to COVID.