Algorithm helps NYPD spot crime patterns
By MICHAEL R. SISAK
Sunday, March 10
NEW YORK (AP) — When a syringe-wielding drill thief tried sticking up a Home Depot near Yankee Stadium, police figured out quickly that it wasn’t a one-off. A man had also used a syringe a few weeks earlier while stealing a drill at another Home Depot 7 miles (11 kilometers) south in Manhattan.
The match, though, wasn’t made by an officer looking through files. It was done by pattern-recognition computer software developed by the New York Police Department.
The software, dubbed Patternizr, allows crime analysts stationed in each of the department’s 77 precincts to compare robberies, larcenies and thefts to hundreds of thousands of crimes logged in the NYPD’s database, transforming their hunt for crime patterns with the click of a button.
It’s much faster than the old method, which involved analysts sifting through reports, racking their brains for key details about various crimes and deciding whether they fit into a pattern. It’s more comprehensive, too, with analysts able to spot patterns across the city instead of just in their precinct.
“Because Patternizr picked up those key details in the algorithm, it brought back complaints from other precincts that I wouldn’t have known,” said Bronx crime analyst Rebecca Shutt, who worked on the Home Depot case. “That was incredibly helpful. That could have been a pattern that wasn’t made.”
The software also found two other thefts committed with a syringe by the same suspect, who was eventually arrested and pleaded guilty to larceny and assault.
Evan Levine, the NYPD’s assistant commissioner of data analytics, and Alex Chohlas-Wood, the department’s former director of analytics, spent two years developing the software before rolling it out in December 2016.
The department disclosed its use of the technology only this month, with Levine and Chohlas-Wood detailing their work in the INFORMS Journal on Applied Analytics in an article alerting other departments how they could create similar software. Speaking about it with the news media for the first time, they told The Associated Press recently that theirs is the first police department in the country to use a pattern-recognition tool like this.
“The goal of Patternizr is, of course, to improve public safety,” said Levine, an astrophysicist by academic training. “The more easily that we can identify patterns in those crimes, the more quickly we can identify and apprehend perpetrators.”
Levine and Chohlas-Wood were inspired by the work of a New York University team that studied a similar approach to pattern recognition but never produced a workable version.
The two trained the program on 10 years of patterns that the department had manually identified. In testing, it accurately re-created old crime patterns one-third of the time and returned parts of patterns 80 percent of the time. The NYPD says the cost was minimal because the two developers were already on staff.
Like human crime analysts, the software compares factors such as method of entry, type of goods taken and the distance between crimes. Levin and Chohlas-Wood sought out the uniformed officers who had decades of experience identifying patterns using traditional methods.
“The real advantage of the tool is that we minimize the amount of leg work and busy work that analysts or detectives have to do and really allow them to leverage their expertise and their experience in going through a much smaller list of results,” said Chohlas-Wood, now the deputy director of the Stanford Computational Policy Lab at Stanford University.
In the past, analysts worked only with crimes in their precinct, making it difficult or even impossible for them to spot patterns in other parts of the city.
“Truthfully, it was inefficient,” Levine said. “It wasn’t a modern way to do these things.”
Even with crime rates falling sharply, there were still more than 68,000 robberies, burglaries and larcenies in New York City last year. Traditional techniques are still being used to identify other crime patterns, such as rapes and homicides.
To reduce possible racial biases, the Patternizr software doesn’t examine the race of crime suspects when it is looking for crime patterns.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said it had not reviewed Patternizr but urged caution as technology is increasingly incorporated into law enforcement.
“To ensure fairness the NYPD should be transparent about the technologies it deploys and allows independent researchers to audit these systems before they are tested on New Yorkers,” NYCLU legal director Christopher Dunn said in email.
Follow Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak
Opinion: We Know Less Than We Think About Hate Crimes
By Walter Olson
After Jussie Smollett’s story fell apart, a Minnesota state lawmaker suggested toughening penalties for false police reports, an idea promptly shot down by his chamber’s Democratic majority leader: “We should be encouraging people to report.”
Should we? Does it matter whether the reports are true?
The way some advocates tell it, hate crime reports are sharply on the upswing and hardly ever prove unfounded.
Start with the second point. Quoting a center at a California university, the New York Times reported recently that “of an estimated 21,000 hate crime cases between 2016 and 2018, fewer than 50 reports were found to be false.”
That’s a curiously low figure, one that depends crucially on the artful phrasing “found to be false.”
If someone withdraws a disintegrating allegation and the police simply drop the matter, the incident has not been “found to be false.” The same is true if the bogus report, as often happens, arises on a college campus where police never get involved in the first place.
From the Times’ wording you might think that of the sorts of claimed hate crimes that ignite social media frenzies, only a fraction of 1 percent prove false. You’d be ever so wrong. While only a minority of alleged hate incidents draw much public notice, examples of bogus hate crime claims that did gain attention have been variously catalogued at more than 400.
In a continuing Twitter thread that has gone viral, Oregon journalist Andy Ngo has strung together dozens of click-and-share outrages later to blow up, such as that of a faculty member at Central Michigan University who punched herself in the face and lied about it “to bring awareness to LGBT issues.”
Other instances result from the social-justice version of pareidolia, the pattern-finding tendency that leads people to find the face of a saint in a piece of toast. A report of a KKK hood at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University turned out to be a white cloth draped over a piece of lab equipment. A supposed noose at Michigan State turned out to be a lost shoelace.
In 2015 both the New York Times and the Washington Post investigated a seeming wave of church arsons and concluded that there was no indication of hate motivation. Church fires turn out to be surprisingly common.
Other times the crimes are sinister indeed but the motivations were not those that were guessed. The perpetrator of more than 2,000 bomb threats that terrorized Jewish institutions around the U.S. turned out to be a disturbed Israeli teenager.
Some hate crimes, we know, are horrifyingly real, such as the murderous assaults by lone gunmen on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012, and Freddie’s Fashion Mart in Harlem in 1995.
Are such crimes on the upswing? An oft-repeated talking point is that FBI statistics last year, to quote Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), “revealed a 17 percent increase in the number of hate crimes in America.”
Let’s be polite and say those FBI figures are difficult to interpret.
To begin with, they’re based on purely voluntary reporting by law enforcement agencies around the country. Agencies in Mississippi — the whole state — reported exactly one hate crime. Arkansas reported five and Alabama eight. Relatively liberal states like Massachusetts and Washington reported hundreds apiece, which doesn’t mean they have more hate crimes.
Moreover, the number of local agencies participating in the FBI survey rose by 1,000 in 2017, contributing to the higher count.
In the state of Oregon, the college town of Eugene reported 72 hate crimes to the FBI in 2017, about as many as the rest of the state put together. According to the Daily Emerald, the difference reflects “the city’s active approach. … The city carefully catalogs reported instances … and even classifies certain crimes — such as vandalism — as a hate crime that other cities would classify in a different way.”
Word is that the Eugene approach is spreading as other cities get interested in steps such as asking officers to write up on their own initiative as a hate incident a graffiti epithet they might see, rather than only if a public complaint happens to come in.
Should those methods spread in coming years, the FBI count of reported hate incidents is sure to mount — yet still not demonstrate with any certainty a genuine rise.
We know less about this topic than we imagine.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
France’s ‘everyday sexism’ starts at school
March 8, 2019
Smartphones have put the tools for bullying and voyeurism in the pockets of schoolchildren.
Author: Bérengère Stassin, Maître de conférences en sciences de l’information et de la communication, membre du CREM, Université de Lorraine
Disclosure statement: Bérengère Stassin does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Université de Lorraine provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation FR.
In France, the #MeToo movement has a livelier name: #BalanceTonPorc, or “Name and Shame Your Pig.” It inspired hundreds of women to denounce sexual harassment on the streets and in the boardroom.
The latest workplace harassment scandal, exposed online in mid-February, involved France’s so-called “LOL League” – an anonymous boys club in the media industry – that in 2010 began bullying female colleagues online.
Prominent news editors, including the managing editor of the French edition of Slate and of the venerable news daily Libération, had targeted female colleagues on Twitter and on Facebook, mocking them on their looks and ethnic origins or making sexist and racist slurs.
Many of these men had since climbed up in hierarchy in the news business, and, as #MeToo unfolded in 2017 and 2018, claimed that they were feminists.
France’s everyday sexism
Sexism is an everyday occurrence in France, where clothing advertisements still use sex to sell products and men comment on women’s looks at the office and on the streets. Lewd comments are often defended as “just flirting.”
Flirtation was the argument some prominent French women – including actor Catherine Deneuve – have used to denounce #MeToo. In an open letter published in January 2018, 100 women denounced #MeToo as a puritan witch hunt, driven by a hatred of men, and claimed that French culture was simply different, more sexually expressive, than American culture.
A recent ad by the French brand Temps des Cerises triggered outrage when it updated France’s revolutionary motto, ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ by replacing the last word with the phrase ‘nice butt.’
Feminists across France rushed to defend #MeToo’s goals of exposing workplace misogyny and holding sexual harassers accountable. By summer 2018, thanks to their efforts, France passed a law criminalizing street harassment.
But the French backlash against #MeToo demonstrated a certain confusion in the country between what constitutes sexual freedom and what constitutes abuse.
In France, studies show, the tendency to pass off sexual harassment as harmless flirtation starts as early as primary school.
Sexual violence at school
Children do not always understand the difference between an intimate touch that is a consensual act of sexual discovery and a nonconsensual, inappropriate touch. And violence and harassment that take other forms – insults, mockery and rumors – are particularly hard for children to identify, and for adults to detect.
Both boys and girls may be subjected to sexism or sexual violence in the guise of a joke or of a game.
Recently, students in a school near Paris were all playing a game they’d learned on the social network Snapchat. It consisted of touching the other children’s private parts to earn “points.” During “Ass Day,” as the students called it, boys and girls allowed each other to touch or squeeze their genitals.
Not participating in this “game” was not really an option.
One female student told a school guard she did not consent to being touched. He looked the other way, and the groping continued. Even after school, the girl was trailed by boys trying to touch her on her way home.
She informed her parents, who went public with the story.
Other common coerced sexual encounters between students include forced kisses and voyeurism, especially spying on the boys’ or girls’ bathroom.
Smartphones and social networks put the tools of voyeurism in kids’ pockets.
Online variations of the bathroom peeping Tom include upskirting – when kids snap pictures up a girl’s skirt – and creepshotting, or taking a picture of a woman’s cleavage without her knowledge.
“Revenge porn” – when angry friends, school bullies or ex-partners post sexually explicit photos of a person without their content – is another danger children face on social networks.
In January 2018, about 50 high school girls in the eastern French region of Strasbourg discovered nude pictures of themselves – previously shared only with friends or boyfriends – published on Snapchat and Facebook groups linked to the school.
Boys are not the only ones to ridicule girls for their sexuality, a form of harassment known as slut shaming. In a bid to earn male approval and popularity, girls, too, post revenge porn and circulate upskirts at the expense of their female classmates.
Stereotypes create violence
Tension and aggressive behavior among teens is attributable to various factors in their development: puberty, identity building, peer group influence, seduction games.
But gender stereotypes are at the heart of this problem, too.
Stereotypes about how men and women should behave are conveyed by the media, at home and in the classroom. In France, teachers’ own internalized sexism may unintentionally lead them to enforce social norms about “flirtation” and the stereotypical roles of boys and girls.
This hurts boys, too. In France, where men are expected to display their sexual dominance, boys considered insufficiently “manly” can become victims of bullying and sexual violence.
“The socialization of boys draws two distinct groups,” says the French educator Eric Debarbieux. “Those who manage to show their strength, to be the strongest, the most virile; and others who risk being downgraded to the category of sub-human, or ‘fags.’”
Quebec film 1:54 denounces homophobic harassment in schools (Yan England, 2016).
Better sex education
Schools in France mostly address gender-based behavior and sexual violence during sex education classes.
The national sex ed curriculum, in place since 1973, is the now the subject of debate in the country.
Teachers discuss public health issues, relationships between girls and boys, the culture of equality, sexual violence, pornography and gender and homophobic prejudices.
Efforts since #MeToo to make French sex education more progressive – starting it at a younger age, for example, or to teach French elementary school children more about gender, sex and identity – have proven controversial. Last September, the French government found itself debunking accusations that it wanted to teach toddlers how to masturbate.
But if French schools contribute to national confusion about the difference between flirting and harassment, schools need to do more to develop students’ ability to think critically about gender roles as they are conveyed by the media, film, television and advertising.
Critically, younger children must be taught about consent, which will help them distinguish between seduction and aggression. France’s anti-#MeToo women wanted to protect the “freedom to bother,” which they say is necessary to give women the “freedom to say ‘no.’”
But children need to know, too, that they have the right to not be bothered.
This article was originally published in French.
#MeToo isn’t big in Africa. But women have launched their own versions
March 7, 2019
Author: Amanda Gouws, Professor of Political Science and SARChi Chair in Gender Politics, Stellenbosch University
Disclosure statement: Amanda Gouws receives funding from the National Research Foundation
Partners: Stellenbosch University provides funding as a partner of The Conversation AFRICA.
Nearly one and a half years ago when Alyssa Milano asked women to click MeToo on their social media platforms, the #MeToo movement was born. Since then millions of women have indicated through social media that they too have been victims of sexual harassment or assault.
The power of this movement has been its ability to show the world how pervasive sexual harassment is. And it’s had an effect on perpetrators. In the film industry producers and actors such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Bill Cosby all lost their jobs.
But is Africa part of this global movement against sexual violence? In her assessment of transnational activism in Africa, author Titilope Adayi, indicates that the global dimension of #MeToo has centred on the involvement of certain countries such as the US, the UK, France, India and China. There’s been virtually no mention of Africa or the Middle East.
But the visibility of #MeToo makes it easy to overlook the very powerful campaigns against sexual violence that go on in Africa. Most are happening outside the digital space.
MeToo was actually started by an African American women, Tarana Burke in 2006 – 11 years before #MeToo – to help young women deal with sexual harassment. Her campaign wasn’t on social media and didn’t become global. But it has now been tagged on to the digital campaign.
Before #MeToo there was the #EndRapeCulture campaign which was started in South Africa in 2016 by African women students. The #EndRapeCulture campaign was powerful enough to force universities in South Africa to appoint task teams to deal with the pervasive normalisation of sexual violence on campuses. But #EndRapeCulture didn’t become a global movement, even though it combined direct action (topless protests) with the digital campaign.
So why didn’t the #MeToo make big inroads into Africa?
The response of African women
One of the reasons for the lack of uptake is related to the racial nature of the campaign. It was started by white, wealthy women in the film industry in the US who had access to digital platforms.
Another reason #MeToo wasn’t that big in Africa is because of the very strong patriarchal culture in which women fear being stigmatised when they speak out about sexual harassment or assault. The very visibility of this kind of action makes them more vulnerable. Women are also afraid that their families may find out about the abuse. Women are therefore silenced by “cultures of respectability”.
And in many countries women are quite aware that the law won’t protect them. In a range of countries, including South Africa and Zimbabwe, secondary victimisation of survivors is rife in male dominated courts, where conviction rates for rape are on average below 10%.
But women in many African countries have staged street protests. This enables them to avoid individualised attention, but nevertheless makes their causes visible.
In Kenya women started #MyDressismyChoice protests in the streets of Nairobi after a woman was assaulted at a bus stop for wearing a miniskirt. In Senegal two young women started “#Nopiwouma” to challenge Senegal’s silence on gender based violence. It means “I will not shut up” in Wolof. The campaign #Doyna, also in Senegal means “that’s enough”.
A consequence of not wanting to speak out about sexual harassment is that high profile men get away with this behaviour, and even when women speak out there may still be no consequences.
South Africa has a very high incidence of gender based violence. A recent example involved the former deputy minister of education Mduduzi Manana, who beat up two women in a nightclub. He resigned from his job, and was eventually forced to relinquish his parliamentary seat, but it took a very long time.
In Uganda, MP Sylvia Rwabwogo filed a complaint against a man who had stalked her for eight months. He was eventually sentenced to two years in prison but she was strongly criticised by Ugandans who expressed their sympathy for the “enamoured” student.
Organisations such as the African Union (AU) have also failed women when it comes to sexual assault. In January 2018, women staffers appealed to senior officials to end harassment in the AU. The matter was only dealt with after it reached the media. The AU’s limp-wristed response was to say that vulnerable young interns and volunteers hoping for permanent work were targeted, but that it could do little to protect them.
African novelist and film maker, Tsitsi Dangarembga, from Zimbabwe laments that #MeToo has not reached Zimbabwe were sexual harassment is also rife. She herself was in an abusive relationship for nearly eight years.
In South Africa women started another campaign, #MenareTrash, to challenge men to speak out about the epidemic of violence against women, especially intimate femicide by men killing their partners. There was a big push back by men against the campaign because some felt they were all being stigmatised.
This doesn’t appear to be a problem confined to South Africa. Globally men have problems showing solidarity with women speaking out against sexual harassment, assault and rape. This was clearly evident in Brett Kavanaugh’s case in the US. Accused of attempted rape, he went on to be confirmed as a judge of the US Supreme Court.
Henry GRAY is a Friend of The Conversation
‘Me Too’ is a loud global cry,
One causing all men to sigh,
Being male is a sin,
It’s into the bin,
Maleness is set to die.