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New Orleans, and its police department accused of secretly using controversial software to combat crime

12th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

Explosive allegations recently surfaced that accuse the City of New Orleans and the New Orleans Police Department of secretly using policing technology in its effort to fight crime. But City officials say the online story “is the result of inadequate research by an offbeat publication.”

According to m article published by The Verge and The Investigative Fund in 2012, the NOPD under former Superintendent Ronal Serpas, a childhood friend of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, 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 it’s very similar to another software program called Coplink,” Serpas, who now teaches criminal justice at Loyola University, told FOX 8 News in a recent interview. “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.”

Serpas said that 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,” Serpas explained. “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 told FOX 8 News that 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,” he told FOX 8 News. “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.”

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 of New Orleans said that’s inaccurate and added that 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.”

FOX 8 News said it reached out to Palantir but they have not returned our request for comment yet. reported that Palantir began doing business in New Orleans after connecting in about 2011 with James Carville, the prominent political consultant and longtime local resident. Carville said recently that the company mentioned an interest in pursuing a philanthropic project, and he suggested tackling New Orleans’ notorious violent crime problem.

That help came in the form of the Gotham software platform, which the City began using in 2012 through a data-sharing and licensing agreement.

According to, Carville has since become a paid consultant for Palantir, which the Verge report said later tried to sell its services to Chicago police by citing the work it had donated to New Orleans.

Carville, meanwhile, has insisted that his only motivation in recommending Palantir was to help a city struggling with gang violence, especially at a time when New Orleans was reeling from crimes such as the 2012 double murder that claimed the life of five-year-old Briana Allen.

“I think free is good, and murder is bad,” said Carville, who declined to say how much he’d made from his arrangement with Palantir. “That was my guiding principle.”

It is unclear whether use of the software was authorized by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan or the federal monitor overseeing the federally mandated, 492-point NOPD consent decree aimed at bringing the troubled police department up to federal standards for constitutional policing. Implementation of the NOPD consent decree began in August 2013. reported that the Landrieu administration has not responded to questions about the program’s future in New Orleans.

The initial two-year arrangement was extended several times but lapsed last week, and it is not clear whether the agreement will be renewed. The agreement did not have to get City Council approval because there was no money changing hands, Landrieu’s office said.

City Councilman Jason Williams, a former defense attorney, told Times-Picayune that he was concerned by the lack of transparency about a company whose work has proven controversial elsewhere. He pointed out that little information has been made public about how effective the program has been.

“I would not take a pill out of an opaque, amber bottle that doesn’t have a label on it,” Williams said. “Right now, that is what this is.”

This article originally published in the March 12, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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