NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Explosive allegations that the City of New Orleans was secretly using policing technology in its effort to fight crime. But the city says the online story "is the result of inadequate research by an offbeat publication."
According to this article by The Verge and The Investigative Fund, in 2012, the NOPD under former Chief Ronal Serpas used policing technology from the company Palantir to trace ties to gang members and help predict whether someone "would commit violence or become a victim."
"The only knowledge I have is that very similar to another software program called Coplink, it was a way of taking information that was gathered and make sense of it, connections between people who had been arrested together or people on social media who had made threats against other people you know, those kinds of things," said Serpas.
Serpas says the technology was just one of a number of tools being used at the time to identify information that he says police have a right to.
"To predict where to interdict crime, to predict where to interdict shootings, and that was very important to us in the gang group reduction strategy to identify people who had been shot or were going to be shot or were part of shooting networks," said Serpas. "I'm unaware of any instance where any member of the NOPD did not follow the law in using the information that it had a right to, to reduce the chances of people shooting and killing each other in our city."
But local attorney and adjunct UNO professor Kurt Garcia says the use of the technology raises questions about implications for citizen's privacy and civil liberties.
"This type of technology perhaps should have been best put out in the open for open discussion by the public, they're claiming this type of material is being used for the safety of citizens not only to predict crimes but also to predict victims of crime so, it's a balancing act how do we choose and the best way to choose is bringing it before our democratic officials, those that we elect and let them decide on behalf of the citizens after a public discussion," said Garcia.
According to the Verge article, the use of the policing technology didn't go through a public procurement process because Palantir established its use in New Orleans as pro bono and philanthropic through the Mayor's NOLA For Life program. But, the city says that's inaccurate and adds they have a cooperative endeavor agreement with Palantir that went through the proper legal process. The city says it's true the company donated the software to the city. The city also points out that "a simple Google search yields a number of instances where the partnership with Palantir is discussed publicly."
The city also says "Palantir is one of many different partnerships leveraged to curb group and gang violence in New Orleans."
We reached out to Palantir but they have not returned our request for comment yet.