(Cross-posted from Stanford Law School)

Twenty-four national experts ranging from academics to law enforcement recently participated in a roundtable on emerging issues in police use of technology. The cross-section of practitioners, policymakers, technologist, and activists, along with eight students from Harvard Law and Stanford Law, came together as part of the Stanford-Harvard Project on Technology and Policing (PTP) which was created to address the vacuum of law and policy despite prevalent use of a range of new technologies by most of the 15,000 police departments in the country. The day-long roundtable was moderated by Robert Weisberg, Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, and Mason Kortz, a clinical instructional fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

SLS Students Present Research on Emerging Issues in Police Use of Technology to National Experts
Twenty-four national experts participated in the day-long roundtable on October 20.

Two teams of Harvard Law students and two teams of Stanford Law students spent a year investigating the current state of police use of technology and identifying near-term solutions. The culmination of their hard work, four clinical papers — one paper produced by each team — were presented for the first time at the October 20 event on the topics of data governance (Harvard), public-private partnerships (Stanford), funding & procurement (Harvard), and social media (Stanford). The roundtable was an important part of the PTP, a policy practicum through the SLS Policy Lab, in conjunction with the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, Harvard’s Criminal Justice Policy Program, and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.

“To have the people who are dealing, day in and day out, with the complicated issues at the intersection of technology and policing together while engaging in exciting and productive conversations was terrific,” said David Alan Sklansky, the Stanley Morrison Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “We all left impressed by what we had accomplished and optimistic about the potential for the Stanford-Harvard Project on Technology and Policing to make a genuine contribution to better laws, policies, and practices in this area.”

After spending the first half of the day discussing as an entire group the common themes in police technology governance, the roundtable participants broke into groups that each focused on one of the four topics and offered their feedback on the key concerns and promising practices described in each paper.

SLS Students Present Research on Emerging Issues in Police Use of Technology to National Experts 1
Each small group focused on one of the four topics, offering feedback on key concerns and promising practices.

“There was a surprising amount of consensus developed throughout the day-long discussions,” said Criminal Justice Center Executive Director Debbie Mukamal, who organized the event with counterparts from Harvard Law. “Everyone there was interested in helping to develop products to better inform police chiefs who are considering the acquisition of new technologies.”

The entire group reconvened for brief reports and questions and then focused on next steps — including which of the issues raised in the papers and throughout the day are the most pressing, difficult, widespread, or otherwise of immediate concern. “Through the policy practicum, we learned about the incredible time and resource-constraints placed on police departments and local city councils,” said Katie Kelsh ’18, one of the SLS students who participated in the practicum. “It felt meaningful because it seems like police departments, civil liberties advocates, policymakers, and other stakeholders are truly eager for a road map to use these new police surveillance technologies in safe and responsible ways,” added Julie Goldrosen ’18.

The forthcoming report will compile the salient issues and offer recommendations in a concrete enough manner to provide immediate guidance yet flexible enough to use with different technologies.

Funding for the roundtable was recommended by Justice Catalyst.