If you grew up watching “The Jetsons” as part of your Saturday morning cartoon ritual, you’re probably seeing by now just how prescient the show has turned out to be.
The Jetson family — George and Jane (his wife) along with daughter Judy and their boy Elroy — lived in a futuristic suburb where everybody’s house looked sort of like a miniature version of Seattle’s Space Needle.
The Jetson household was what we now might call a “smart” home — they had big interactive screens on nearly every wall, voice-activated devices that did all the mundane household chores for them and even a robot maid, Rosie.
Everybody skittered around in flying coupes that broke all of gravity’s laws. Other than that, crime wasn’t much of a problem, and perhaps all that technology should get some of the credit.
That seems to be what local law enforcement officials are banking on, anyway.
Increasingly, they’re relying on a “data-driven” approach, which includes using sophisticated technology to keep an eye on known offenders, and to quickly share data among local agencies to help track criminals and detect crime patterns.
They’re hoping it’ll help them stop violent crimes, particularly gang-related activities, before they happen.
Just this month, the Yakima Police Department got the go-ahead from the City Council to buy 15 automatic license plate recognition cameras and hire two crime analysts. The cameras will cost $110,000, plus an annual $5,000 subscription. The new crime analysts will cost $269,958.
Police will place 10 of the cameras at Yakima’s main entry points. The other five will be positioned in high-crime areas that analysts will pinpoint with data they gather.
It sounds like an intelligent approach to us, though admittedly, the thought of more cameras watching our every move is a little unsettling. Creepy, even.
Councilmember Brad Hill didn’t sound worried when YPD brought their request to the council July 6.
“In 2021 United States of America, you are kind of ridiculous if you think you have any real personal privacy left,” Hill said.
He’s probably right, but that doesn’t give us much comfort — or any assurances that programs like this will be transparent and accountable to the public.
Apparently YPD’s Chief Matt Murray and Yakima County Sheriff Robert Udell are working with the FBI to see how data analysis could help with local police work. They’re also partnering to build a local analyst task force and a gang task force.
Additionally, and commendably, YPD’s strategy is to connect potential offenders with nonprofits to help break crime cycles.
We’re encouraged by the innovative thinking that’s going on among crime fighters. But with myriad ways to abuse technological systems like these, we urge governing bodies such as City Councils and county commissions to build in strong safeguards to protect the public’s privacy and civil liberties.
It’s one thing to have devices like the Jetsons enjoyed that fix your breakfast, wash your clothes or brush your teeth for you. It’s quite another if you’re surrounded by government technology controlled by someone else — someone whose motives you might not know.