How is Private Firm Helping New Orleans Cut Murders?

New Orleans has partnered with the Silicon Valley firm Palantir Technologies to identify people likely to commit gun violence or become a victim. The city has refused to disclose information on how the program works, including the computation of a police “gang member scorecard.”

In 2012, with New Orleans city coming off a year in which 200 people were murdered, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office partnered with a Silicon Valley tech company to collect and analyze data that would inform much of the city’s murder-reduction strategy. Created in 2004 by a group that included billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Palantir Technologies offered its services free, giving police the ability to identify people deemed likely to either commit gun violence or be a victim of it. The partnership is credited with helping drive down murders, which fell by 25 percent over three years. Some New Orleans Police Department observers say they’ve been kept in the dark about Palantir’s involvement, raising concerns over how data is used to link individuals to potential violence – and what happens once connections are made, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“There’s a potential risk for abuse, particularly with no independent verification of how these tools are used,” said Ursula Price of the Independent Police Monitor’s office. “We’ve invested a short period of time telling people they can be involved in reshaping the NOPD. Now we’ve gone to a place where it’s no one’s business how the department operates.” Critics say there is a risk that the data collection and analysis powered by Palantir could open the door to the kind of threat ranking system that has sparked controversy in other cities. Emails obtained by The Times-Picayune through a public records request revealed the existence of such a list, created in 2016 by a now-former crime analyst in the city’s gang unit. Called a “gang member scorecard,” the spreadsheet “ranks according to the number of gun-related events (weighted according to severity) with which a person is associated,” the analyst wrote. The police department denied a public records request for the spreadsheet, citing a state law that shields records containing security procedures or investigative techniques.