by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department
As law enforcement agencies throughout the United States begin to re-imagine and re-evaluate their role under an administration that purports to be wholly and unquestioningly supportive of the police, those of us who observe and comment on police-related issues should be concerned, very concerned. Four issues are worthy of immediate scrutiny: technology, immigration, “stop and frisk” and militarization.
The story broke, predictably, on a Saturday during the Thanksgiving weekend. The Boston Globe reported that the Boston Police Department planned to spend $1.4 million on software “that will scan social media and the Internet for criminal activity and threats to public safety.” So a local police department, and certainly not the first local police department of the over 18, 000 police departments that exist in the United States, will be monitoring our use of social media and flag keywords that might be indicative of criminal involvement or “threats to public safety” (whatever that means in the eyes of the police).
Welcome to the bad new days of law enforcement, circa 2017. When last I checked, I had tweeted over 5000 times since 2009, and many of my tweets have been stridently critical of the police use of deadly force and police violence, and these tweets no doubt contained words such as “shooting,” “police,” “violence,” “deadly” and “#BlackLivesMatter.” I will no doubt be flagged as an enemy of the state and a threat to public safety by the police department where I worked for 27 years.