Skip to content

The Surveillance And Policing Of Looted Land

Above Photo: LAPD. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters.

A New Report from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition: Automating Banishment.

Surveillance is an integral part of policing in this country. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition report, Automating Banishment: the Surveillance and Policing of Looted Land , details the history of these abuses in Los Angeles.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition is a community group rooted in the Skid Row community on Tongva/Gabrielino land, stolen territory known as Los Angeles. Over the past decade, we have been working to build power to abolish LAPD surveillance. This report grew out of that organizing and examines the relationships of policing and surveillance to displacement, gentrification, and real estate development. We study those relationships with a focus on the process that has always bound policing and capitalism together: colonization.

We often hear that police are an occupying army in our communities. Throughout the history of imperialism and colonization, occupying forces have used surveillance to monitor and contain populations they deem threatening, all for the purpose of maintaining their violent rule. LAPD’s use of surveillance and data-driven policing must be understood from that perspective.

While more and more people are beginning to understand the role of data in policing, less attention is paid to data-driven policing’s relationship to land. Our exploration of that connection began as we were researching whether algorithmically generated “predictive” policing “hot spots” had a role in LAPD’s murder of Skid Row resident Charley “Africa” Kuenang. That research uncovered an ecology of institutions who inform police violence, including real estate developers, advocacy nonprofits, academic researchers, and the U.S. military. All those institutions show up in the pages that follow.

At the same time that we began researching data-driven policing’s relationship to land, our organizing efforts succeeded in securing the country’s first public hearings on data-driven policing as well as dismantling LAPD’s first-generation of predictive policing programs, Operation LASER (ended in April 2019) and PredPol (ended in April 2020). Those programs are explained in detail below, using records we obtained and analyzed after the programs ended. But the analysis in this report is by no means only backward-looking or historical. The same month LAPD ended PredPol, it launched Data-Informed Community-Focused Policing, a new policing framework that embeds data and surveillance into everything LAPD does.

The storytelling and analysis in this report is intended to frame organizing against this new program and beyond. Our purpose is to inform that fight, helping build intersectional coalitions across communities harmed by this policing. The report also examines the role of police “reform” in repackaging the violence of Operation LASER and PredPol. Studying the history, ecology, and evolution of these programs helps expose the harms at their root.

Modern policing incorporates tactics honed during ongoing settler colonialism, genocide, and enslavement. LAPD fuses military counterinsurgency methods with the anti-Black subordination of “broken windows” policing, stop-and-frisk, the “zero tolerance” Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row, the Suspicious Activity Reporting spy program, Metro Units “proactively” hunting people across South Central, and gang injunctions and databases. “Predictive” and “data-driven” policing are the latest form of those harms. The purposes remain the same: speculatively criminalizing our identities, banishing us from our homes, and gathering “intelligence” to control us.

Data-mining supercharges the violence of policing, enabling deep coordination between those who seek to criminalize our communities, to transform land, and to displace and banish our people. Data-driven policing also obfuscates the purpose of this violence, hiding it behind a veneer of science and objectivity. Sometimes the purpose is banishment: removing us from our homes and communities. Sometimes it’s containment: restricting us from the areas police want to secure for gentrification. Sometimes it’s blight: targeting areas for neglect in order to maintain racial and class hierarchies. Sometimes it’s extraction: exploiting our wealth, labor, or resources. And sometimes it’s elimination: killing or incarcerating our people. Whatever the purpose, what links these practices is the process of conquest.

LAPD’s tactics and technologies today extend those various purposes. Predictive policing programs serve as tools of racial terror, ethnic cleansing, and containment. LAPD’s role as an enforcement arm of landlords, developers, and other property owners is analogous to the role of the U.S. military in the era of genocidal western expansion. And “community policing” programs apply counterinsurgency tactics that have been used to suppress resistance and cultivate false legitimacy in imperial occupations. Throughout those examples, Los Angeles can be seen as a garrison state, with police testing new forms of surveillance and harm on our people.

These examples of course have resonance beyond Los Angeles too. As we were researching this report, the 2020 murder of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville, Kentucky, exposed similar connections between real estate investment, surveillance, and policing. The police raid that killed Breonna Taylor was part of a “Place-Based Investigation” program used to banish Black residents in gentrifying areas. This killing shows how both “offender-based” and “location-based” surveillance policing tactics carry out the goals of elimination in the service of private capital.

Here in Los Angeles too, surveillance strategies advance the banishment, containment, blight, extraction, and elimination that are characteristic of conquest and colonialism. And here too, these tactics are deadly.