Anderton shakes Witwer’s hand warmly, but he privately worries that he’s getting “Bald and fat and old.” Witwer is young and cocky, and he walks around Anderton’s office like he owns the place. The two men discuss the way that Anderton’s agency, Precrime, operates, and Witwer notes that the Senate is happy with how things are going. Wary of Witwer’s confidence and obvious ambition, Anderton explains that Witwer is going to be his assistant until Anderton chooses to retire—which could be this year or 10 years from now. Anderton explains that he founded Precrime, and he wants to be clear that there will be a spot for him at the agency for as long as he wants it. With a “guileless” expression, Witwer affirms that Anderton is the boss and asks for a tour of the office.
In the presence of Witwer—who is young, handsome, and confident—Anderton becomes painfully aware of his own perceived shortcomings and is immediately on the defensive. Even though Anderton seems to imply that Witwer is after the man’s job, Witwer’s expression is “guileless,” or innocent, forcing the reading to question whether or not Anderton is just being paranoid and overreacting. Nevertheless, Witwer’s clear arrogance and ambition raises the possibility that he might stop at nothing to climb to the corporate ladder, dethroning Anderton at the top.
As they walk through the office, Anderton and Witwer discuss the basics of how Precrime works: with the help of “precog mutants,” Precrime has managed to virtually eliminate punishments such as jail time and fines—punishments, Witwer chimes in, that were historically unsuccessful at putting an end to crime. Anderton explains the “legalistic drawback” of the whole system: Precrime is detaining people who are technically innocent because they haven’t actually committed a crime. “Would-be criminals” are shipped off to a detention camp before they have the opportunity to break the law, thus rendering society free of crime.
Precrime has been incredibly effective at reducing crime, creating a remarkably safe society. However, Anderton is keenly aware that Precrime has a major downside: Precrime officers are imprisoning people who have not yet committed the crime they’re charged with—that is, people who are technically innocent. With this explanation of Precrime, Anderton gestures to the tension between liberty and safety that runs throughout the story, suggesting that his society is willing to infringe on people’s personal liberties in the interest of safety.
Witwer shockingly beholds the “Vegetable-like” precogs. He is somewhat taken aback by their “deformed” and enslaved bodies, which are almost lost behind the tangled mess of wires and clamps that connect them to the precognitive computer system.
The precogs are imprisoned and manipulated, treated more like objects than people. As precogs are the basis of Precrime, this maltreatment begins to paint Precrime itself in a negative light. The precogs are also a clear symbol of the conflict between safety and liberty in Anderton’s society: the precogs are essential to maintaining such a safe society, since it’s their predictions (precognition) that picks out would-be criminals. However, the precogs’ own liberties are clearly being trampled, and their predictions step on the toes of other citizens’ liberties, too, by allowing the police to whisk would-be criminals off to a detention camp before they’ve even committed a crime and without so much as a trial.
Anderton proudly informs Witwer that Precrime has reduced felonies by 99.8 percent, and that the last murder was five years ago. “Quite an impressive record,” Witwer agrees. Going through the precog cards, Anderton’s lips tighten as he sees his own name listed as a murderer.
Although Anderton is aware of the “legalistic drawback” of the system, the clear note of pride in his voice as he rattles off statistics reveals his belief that safety is far more important and worth preserving than liberty. However, Anderton’s shocking discovery of his own culpability in a future crime begins to call into question whether or not this system is really fair. Anderton is suddenly displaced from his safe perch at the top of Precrime and thrust in the shoes of would-be criminals who haven’t even committed a crime yet and are still considered guilty.