WHILE SEATTLE is having trouble securing federal money to fund our light rail plans and our homeless shelters, there seems to be no shortage of cash for fighting crime. The creepy-sounding Institute of Justice (a division of Janet Reno's Department of Justice) has awarded Seattle $950,000 to set up and test a sci-fi crime-fighting software program called COMPASS -- Community Mapping, Planning, and Analysis for Safety Strategies. COMPASS is the daughter of COMPSTAT, a program that Rudy Giuliani's New York City Police Department used to identify crime-ridden areas so they could strategically deploy more cops. Seattle beat out 16 other cities for the grant.

COMPASS is being sold as a more sophisticated and compassionate version of COMPSTAT, weaving other data ("social indicators") into the crime stats as a way to uncover the root causes of crime. The idea is to engage politicians in a more focused effort to combat crime through their policy decisions.

But leave it to kick-ass City Councilwoman Judy Nicastro to figure out that there's some Orwellian wordplay going on here: All the politically correct talk of tackling root causes may be a cover for invasive government monitoring. "What kind of information [are you] going to be gathering and how is the government going to access it?" Nicastro asked local COMPASS project manager Nancy McPherson, during a briefing in front of the city council's public safety committee.

Good question, Judy. After all, the anti-crime software is evidently going to sift through anecdotal information from "Neighborhood Action Teams," track the whereabouts of ex-felons, and tap into hospital records.

However, Nicastro's super crime-fighting colleague, City Council President Margaret Pageler, is not so skeptical. In fact, she seems downright gung ho. "I know exactly what we want to happen from this," she said in response to Nicastro's questioning. "Eliminate downtown drug trafficking and drug-related crime in Pioneer Square and Belltown. How about that?!" Hmmm. If Pageler already knows what the problems are and what needs to happen, why are we taking nearly a million dollars from the Feds for a computer program to figure it all out?

The public safety committee meets next week to discuss the issue. Hopefully, concerns about privacy and civil rights -- along with specifics about what information is being thrown into the database -- will be worked out before the committee recommends that the full council sign off on the program.

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