Technologies That Are Changing the Way Police Do Business
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How Advancements Shape Criminal Justice Professions
The world of law enforcement is very different now than it was when I entered it in 2001. In just a few short years, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, changing the way police officers do just about everything. When I first became a cop, we didn’t even have computers available to use at our stations, much less in our cars. But technological advancements are changing law enforcement.
Now, the unimaginable has not only been imagined but manifested. And there’s no slowing down. From drones in the sky to microcomputers in our glasses, technological advancements abound. Here are just a few of the technologies, either already on the street or on the horizon, that will help police make the stuff of science fiction become science fact.
Law Enforcement Looking to Use Drones on Patrol
Critics decry them as harbingers of an Orwellian police state, a la “1984.” Proponents point to the vast potential to solve and prevent crime. Wherever you fall in the argument, the fact is that drones are well on their way to becoming eyes in the sky for law enforcement officials.
Unmanned drones can help patrol in ways and areas that police officers simply cannot. They can provide real-time information to police dispatchers and crime analysts so that officers can get vital information about crimes in progress and dangerous situations, as they unfold. It can help them better plan responses and save lives.
In addition, drones can capture video and images of crimes as they occur, providing crucial evidence in future court proceedings. Imagine a bank robbery in progress; a surveillance drone could be quickly dispatched to the area and follow a fleeing suspect to his home or hideout without his knowledge, avoiding a potential hostage situation or unnecessary injuries.
How Police Can Use Google Glass, HoloLens, and Augmented Reality
Imagine an officer on foot patrol. As he walks down the street, his special glasses are recording and analyzing everything he sees. A built-in screen provides information about the businesses, homes, and vehicles he looks at, while facial recognition software provides real-time information about the people he passes, letting him know if anyone matches BOLO descriptions or if someone he is near has an outstanding warrant.
It was not long ago that this seemed like an impossibility. With the advent of Google Glass, though, this scenario is becoming a very real possibility. Both the software and the data for such a scenario is already available; facial recognition has been in existence for a decade, and simple smartphone apps like Around Me can already provide an augmented reality experience using the phone’s camera.
While the first generation of Google’s computer goggles may not have these capabilities, one can easily see that it’s only a matter of time before officers on the street will have built-in heads-up displays that provide a host of data. This data can help patrol more effectively and efficiently and keep them and their charges safe.
Police Use Social Media to Solve Crime and Engage the Public
Our society has become one in which, though we talk about the importance of privacy, we sure don’t seem to care who knows what about us. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others, we seem to be more than happy to share with anyone and everyone what we’re doing, thinking, and even eating at any given moment.
For law enforcement agencies, crime analysts and even probation and community control officers, social media is beginning to prove itself to be a crucial criminal justice tool in gathering intelligence, locating clues and even screening candidates for employment.
There have been numerous cases of police thwarting or solving crimes based on tips gleaned from Facebook posts, and undetected crimes have been successfully prosecuted as a result of videos posted to YouTube. While social media may seem “old hat” as a social and marketing platform, its potential as a crime-fighting tool is only just beginning to be realized.
Law Enforcement Uses Biometrics for Data Security and Identification
From data security to suspect identification, the use of biometrics—using unique biological traits such as fingerprints, retina scans, and DNA to identify individuals—is rapidly increasing among law enforcement circles.
Once a tedious and messy task that included ink, fingerprint cards and arduous analysis by hand, using fingerprints and other biometric data once took weeks and even months. Now, as technology becomes cheaper, smaller, more portable, and readily available, officers are able to use handheld scanners to instantly identify individuals with criminal pasts.
Scanners built into laptop computers provide added security to ensure no unauthorized person can gain access to sensitive intelligence and personal information. DNA databases and software continue to improve, reducing the time and the backlog that once served as major impediments to solving crimes.
New York Police Department’s Domain Awareness System
The New York City Police Department worked with the Microsoft Corporation to develop a comprehensive information and data system that can assist law enforcement at almost every step of patrol and investigations.
The Domain Awareness System, nicknamed the Dashboard, ties in data from a host of available sources, including Computer Aided Dispatch, crime reports and criminal histories, maps and even cameras to provide instant access to real-time information, pictures and video about calls in progress. This comprehensive information is available to officers and crime analysts at a glance, allowing them to formulate a response to any given call better.
How Police Can Use Tablets and Smartphones
Jumping on Facebook, playing Words with Friends or wasting time watching YouTube videos is fine on your off time, but smartphone and tablet computing technology are gaining steam as a crime-fighting tool.
Laptops in patrol cars were once all the rage, but they have their limitations. The increasing portability of connected devices is allowing for new uses and applications for police officers. From handheld translation services that help officers communicate with non-English speakers to handheld electronic ticket-writing devices, tablets and smartphones now give officers the ability to access, record and disseminate important information no matter where they are.
Automatic Tag and License Plate Readers for Police
Mounted to the exterior of patrol cars, electronic tag readers are becoming more prevalent among larger departments and traffic-oriented agencies. Using cameras connected to vehicle information databases, electronic tag readers instantly analyze license plates on every vehicle that comes within their range of view.
Instead of having to call in tags to dispatchers one at a time in order to check for stolen vehicles or compare BOLO information, officers can be alerted to the fact that they are behind a stolen vehicle without having to lift a finger. Tag readers have the potential to increase the number of vehicles recovered and criminals apprehended.
Law Enforcement Use of GPS
The Global Positioning System is not new, but its applications are continuing to expand into the law enforcement community. Using GPS technology, police can pinpoint the location of a call and determine the fastest and safest route to it, getting people the help they need more efficiently and timely.
Officers can record the location of their traffic stops and crash investigations, and that information can be exported to maps to determine how enforcement efforts can be better focused on decreasing the occurrences of traffic crashes. GPS technology can also be used by crime analysts to help identify emerging trends in crime locations and help better plan for shift staffing and patrol assignments.
GPS also adds increased accountability for officers, allowing management and supervisory personnel to track locations and speeds of officers. Received however grudgingly, these uses and innovations help keep officers honest and help them maintain the high ethical standards they are held to.
Advancements Continue to Transform the Policing Profession
Technology continues to advance and change, and in so doing, it advances and changes the profession of law enforcement and other careers in criminology and criminal justice. With proper restraint and respect for constitutional concerns, the use of technology in criminal justice will continue to allow crime fighters to further their ability to serve and protect their respective communities.