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Fresno PD Drops Color-Coded Threat Assessments

Jan 26, 2016

The Fresno Police Department is rolling back a controversial threat prediction program after public backlash. The department is no longer using a portion of a program called ‘Beware’ which issue color-coded threat assessments when responding to calls.

The Department came under fire after reports surfaced of them using a function in ‘Beware’ to scan the internet for information about a person and issue a green, yellow, or red warning label. It even labeled a city council member as yellow for unclear reasons.

It was part of the Real Time Crime Center which is intended to use technology to improve the department’s ability to respond quickly to crime in Fresno. The color-coding element in ‘Beware’ caught caused a stir because it scanned publicly available information on the internet to determine a possible risk level at the location of a call. However, the exact process the software used remained a mystery.

Sergeant Steve Casto, who runs the Real Time Crime Center, says they have now shut that part of the program down.

“It just wasn’t worth any kind of challenge or a fight. We didn’t get that kind of value from that piece. For us,” Casto said.

The department has not completely stopped using beware but it now only scans internal databases. Casto says the intention was to give officers as much information as possible when rushing to a scene. He disagrees with the presentation of the information as a ‘threat assessment’.

Casto also says they are not using any social media monitor software which came under similar critique.

Matt Cagle with the ACLU first brought the issue to public attention and considers the decision a win for transparency and privacy.

“The public was alarmed that the police department had secretly started experimenting with software that potentially labeled them as threats to public safety,” Cagle said.

The FPD will continue to use a more limited version of the program that tells officers at the crime center if there is a criminal history at a particular address. In that case, a symbol will appear in the screen that will show them previous arrests and convictions at a particular address. However, it will not assign any type of color-coded threat assessment.