Technologies That Are Changing the Way Police Do Business

How Advancements Shape Criminal Justice Professions

Young people attending a Google developer conference
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Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, and it's changed the way police officers do just about everything. Police didn't even have computers available at their stations, much less in their cars, before the millennium.

From drones in the sky to microcomputers in eyeglasses, technological advancements abound in 2019.

Drones and Robots on Patrol

Critics decry them as harbingers of an Orwellian police state, while proponents point to the vast potential of drones and robots to solve and prevent crime. The fact is that drones have become eyes in the sky for law enforcement officials, and robots can enter locations that officers can't without risking injury or death.

Remote-controlled robots equipped with cameras can investigate bomb threats. They can climb steps and move much like a human being would. Drones can capture video and images of crimes as they occur, providing crucial evidence in future court proceedings.

Unmanned drones and remote robots can help patrol in ways and areas that police officers simply cannot. They provide real-time information to police dispatchers and to crime analysts so officers can get vital information about crimes in progress and dangerous situations as they unfold. This can help officers better plan responses and save lives.

Imagine a bank robbery in progress—a surveillance drone can be quickly dispatched to the area and follow a fleeing suspect to his home or hideout without his knowledge. This can avoid a potential hostage situation or unnecessary injuries.

Google Glass, HoloLens, and Augmented Reality

Imagine an officer on foot patrol. The officer's special glasses are recording and analyzing everything on the street as it unfolds ahead. A built-in screen provides information about the surrounding businesses, homes, and vehicles, while facial recognition software provides real-time information about the people.

Google Glass has made this scenario a reality. Facial recognition has been in existence since the dawn of the 21st century, and simple smartphone apps like Around Me can provide an augmented reality experience using the phone's camera.

The officer knows if anyone matches BOLO descriptions or if someone nearby has an outstanding warrant. All this data helps officers patrol more effectively and efficiently, and it keeps them and their charges safe.

Portable Lasers

No, lasers that can sever a limb with a beam of light. Law enforcement employs handheld lasers that can instantly report the chemical composition of unknown substances.

Officers can check before coming in contact with anything questionable, and they'll have the answers they need long before a lab can get around to testing and issuing a report.

Social Media

Social media has created a personal sharing frenzy. People talk about the importance of privacy, then they purge online, sharing infinite personal details willingly through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites. They post what they're doing, thinking, or even eating at any given moment.

Social media has proven to be a crucial criminal justice tool for law enforcement agencies, crime analysts, and even probation and community control officers. It helps them locate clues and even screen 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. An alleged Capital One hacker boasted of her exploits online and effectively led the FBI right to her door in 2019.

While social media might seem "old hat" as a social and marketing platform, its potential as a crime-fighting tool is only just beginning to be realized.

Biometrics for Data Security and Identification

Biometrics involves using unique biological traits, such as fingerprints, retina scans, and DNA to identify individuals, and it's become relatively commonplace in law enforcement circles for purposes of data security to suspect identification.

Once a tedious and messy task that included ink, fingerprint cards, and analysis by hand, using fingerprints and other biometric data could take weeks and sometimes even months. Officers are able to use handheld scanners to instantly identify individuals with criminal pasts as technology becomes cheaper, smaller, more portable, and readily available.

Scanners built into laptop computers provide added security to ensure that no unauthorized person can gain access to sensitive intelligence and personal information. DNA databases and software reduce 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 assists 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, criminal histories, maps, and even cameras to provide instant access to real-time information. It offers pictures and videos about calls in progress.

This comprehensive information is available to officers and crime analysts at a glance, allowing them to better formulate a response to any given call.

Tablets and Smartphones

Laptops in patrol cars were once all the rage, but they had their limitations. The increasing portability of connected devices allows 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, officers have the ability to access, record, and disseminate important information on tablets and smartphones, no matter where they are.

Automatic Tag and License Plate Readers

Mounted to the exterior of patrol cars, electronic tag readers have become more prevalent, particularly among larger departments and traffic-oriented agencies. Electronic tag readers instantly analyze license plates on every vehicle that comes within their range of view, using cameras connected to vehicle information databases.

Officers can be alerted to the fact that they're driving behind a stolen vehicle without having to lift a finger. They no longer have to call in tags to dispatchers one at a time to check for stolen vehicles or to compare BOLO information. Tag readers have the potential to increase the number of vehicles recovered and criminals apprehended.

Law Enforcement Use of GPS

Global Positioning System applications continue to expand into the law enforcement community. Police can pinpoint the location of a call using GPS technology and determine the fastest and safest route to get people the help they need more efficiently.

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 to help better plan for shift staffing and patrol assignments.

Proof and Accountability

GPS also adds increased accountability for officers, allowing management and supervisory personnel to track locations and the speeds at which they're traveling. These uses and innovations help keep officers honest and help them maintain the high ethical standards they're held to, and they can protect them as well.

The same goes for in-car vehicles and body cams. They'll record exactly what happened in any situation, when an officer is being accused of something that never happened or when an officer does regrettably step over a line. The proof of what actually happened is there on the recording.

Advancements Continue to Transform the Profession

Technology continues to advance and change 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.