The Purge seems implausible, but according to criminologists, some sci-fi films' law-enforcement methods could be possible one day—and some are in use right now.
Judging by the reviews, Lena Headey and Ethan Hawke's new film The Purgemay be pretty forgettable. But at least one aspect of the future-set movie intrigues: the premise. Set a decade from now, The Purge takes place in a world where the United States is thriving, where unemployment is less than one percent, and crime at an all time low. To safeguard this prosperity, the government indulges its citizens in an annual purge, a 12-hour amnesty in which all criminal activity is made legal.
It's an extreme solution, but one that's perfectly in keeping with the sci-fi genre, which historically has a habit of theorizing creative ways to combat crime. After all, future-gazing films have dreamt up everything from citywide prisons to cybernetic street cops. Just how far removed from reality are these seemingly outlandish approaches to keeping society safe? I decided to find out by asking a few experts in criminology just how plausible science fiction's crime-fighting policies actually are.
Crime-fighting premise: With economic collapse bringing a future Detroit to the brink of ruin, the city hands control of its police department to Omni Consumer Products, a mega-corporation tasked with ridding the streets of crime. To that end, the company develops a series of robotic law enforcement droids, protocol-based machines that patrol the streets in the force's place.
Criminologists say: "When you look at the technologies that the government is already employing, especially here in the United States, we're very close to RoboCop," says Dawn L. Rothe, director at the International State Crime Research Consortium and associate professor in sociology and criminology at Old Dominion University. "We're now producing airborne drones that have the automated intellectual ability where they are able to pick out a terrorist and make a decision whether to kill them or not. So we're already getting to this point, and I don't see that using a RoboCop, if you will, is so far fetched."
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