What Is the Arnold Foundation Hiding?

By Eric Siddall

As stories emerge about the Arnold Foundation’s “algorithm” pretrial release tool, we should be disturbed about the results. As covered in a previous blog, use of the tool is linked to two murders and the wholesale release of dangerous felons.

However, a Wired story raises even more questions about the Arnold Foundation algorithm. It turns out the tool was given to San Francisco for free, but with conditions that bars the disclosure of “any information about the use of the Tool, including any information about the development, operation and presentation of the Tool.”

That insistence on secrecy about a program that could greatly affect public safety is disturbing. Laughable is the Arnold Foundation stated reason for non-disclosure: to prevent local governments or rivals from using or copying the tool without permission. Since the tool was given to San Francisco for free–i.e., there was no profit motive–why would the foundation have concerns about the use of the tool without permission?

While the Arnold Foundation has now released the formulas and factors that guide the tool, it still refuses to release the data set on which the tool was based or any validation tests that may have been performed. In short, the Arnold Foundation will not allow independent researchers to evaluate the critical factors behind the “tool.”

While John Arnold (after whom the foundation was named) may have used secret algorithms in his natural gas future trading while working at Enron and his own hedge fund, the worst result he could face was the loss of money. The bad calls this algorithm has made has been linked to at least two murders, one in San Francisco and one in New Jersey. How many more people need to die before this social experiment is ended?

Eric W. Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

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