Police target dangerous suspects before they can offend

Articles in the Times about the London Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Prevention Unit and its head Laura Richards have caused a few ripples through the media and blogosphere in recent days. From the original story (Sunday Times, 26 November, reprinted on the TimesOnline on 27 Nov):

Criminal profilers are drawing up a list of the 100 most dangerous murderers and rapists of the future even before they commit such crimes, The Times has learnt. The highly controversial database will be used by police and other agencies to target suspects before they can carry out a serious offence.

[…]Experts from the Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Prevention Unit are creating psychological profiles of likely offenders to predict patterns of criminal behaviour. Statements from former partners, information from mental health workers and details of past complaints are being combined to identify the men considered most likely to commit serious violent crimes.

[…] Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said yesterday: “It is quite right that the police should keep intelligence on suspected criminals, but it is obscene to suggest there should be a ‘crime idol’ list of those who might commit an offence.

which appeared together with a profile (natch) of Richards, “the woman who aims to spot killers before they can strike“:

The tragedies and brutalities of others form the substance of Laura Richards’s professional life. But unlike other police officers, whose job it is to catch the perpetrators of crimes, Ms Richards works to ensure that future criminals never get the chance to commit them.

She is the head of analysis of the Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Prevention Unit, whose task it is to detect crimes before they are committed. If it sounds futuristic, an echo of the Tom Cruise film Minority Report — in which psychics predict murders so that the perpetrators can be arrested first — it isn’t. This is a unit that uses the best psychological and criminological advances to identify the killers of tomorrow from the lesser criminals of today.

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