Policing is an industry that constantly changes. Criminals evolve. With technology, criminals can find new ways to wreak havoc. Burglars use social media to discover when people are on vacation. Emails with malicious programs give cyber-thieves access to your online banking information. A recent trend, virtual kidnapping, is when someone receives a phone call claiming that they have a person hostage with them. In actuality, they do not have a hostage at all and hope to acquire a ransom before they are found out. As of October 2017, the FBI had identified over 80 victims of virtual kidnapping, whose “collective loses were more than $87,000.”
With criminals getting more tricks up their sleeves, law enforcement must always be one step ahead. Technology is the best advantage out there.
We have compiled a list of tech tools and systems that are currently active in some police departments or will be launching soon. We guarantee there’s at least a few on this list that will surprise you!
While ‘police robots’ sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, that technology is already in use today. In July 2016, the Dallas Police Department had a confrontation with sniper Micah Johnson. Micah had already killed five police officers and was continuing his crime spree. After a standoff, the Dallas PD sent in “an 800-pound Northrop Grumman robot with a bomb attached to its body toward Johnson. They denotated the explosive remotely. He died on the scene.”
Denotating bombs are not the Northrop Grumman robot’s only function. VICE reported on the robot being used by the Albuquerque Police Department to reach into a motel room of a suicidal man and pull a blanket off him to identify if he was carrying a gun, before sending in live officers.
Robots like the Northrop Grumman are used to defuse bombs or deescalate situations, without endangering police officers. There are a wide variety of robots; ranging in sizes and purposes. However, with a price tag between $160,000 – $297,000, it might take a couple more years before this life-saving technology is available in every agency.
Drones are already widely accepted in police departments and public safety agencies across the nation. One example includes correctional facilities using drones to combat contraband being smuggled into prisons. For a detailed account of how police, fire, corrections, and EMTs use drones check out our blog post on drones.
Body Cameras …. But on K9s
There have been a lot of police departments adopting body camera technology for their officers. Body cameras allow officers to have a line of defense in the case that their actions or behavior are under review.
Now some police departments are taking this one step further and equipping police dogs with cameras that transmit live video. The K-9 can then approach a scene before an officer, and the video footage allows the officer to determine if it’s safe to proceed. Similar to most early adopters of technology, these cameras cost an average of $8,700, making them an expensive decision for any police department.
Image Source: Tactile Electronics
A recent development in our criminal justice system is the use of predictive algorithms. Algorithms sort through data and give individuals a ‘risk score.’ The evaluation could consider factors such as age, zip code, prior criminal history, and employment status. Already some states have used predictive algorithms for determining qualification for bail. The purpose of these systems is to speed up the process of sorting through cases and to reduce human error by allowing machines to categorize the risk of recidivism.
As a relatively new procedure, the heated debate for the use of predictive algorithms in our court systems continues. One of the arguments against the practice is that previous trials have shown that racial bias can occur in the categorization process. To learn more about risk assessment algorithms and their applications, check out our blog post on it.
Gun Listening System
A system that has gained a lot of media attention in the last couple of years is ShotSpotter. The acoustic surveillance technology uses tiny microphones around a city to listen for the sound of gunshots and immediately alerts the police of the location. Currently, the system is used in “more than 90 cities across the U.S.”
Thanks to SpotShotter technology, a man who was shot several times in Bakersfield, California had police on the scene within minutes. No one had called 9-1-1. The police stated that despite serious injuries, they expect the man to survive. This is just one example of this software aiding police in protecting the public.
However, this technology has received some backlash from communities After months of deliberation, Toronto recently overturned their decision to adopt the technology. SpotShotter ensures its customers that their microphones only detect gunshots and cannot record conversations. Still, privacy concerns were enough of an issue in Toronto for the city to look for other solutions to reducing gun violence.
Check out our full post on SpotShotter for more details on the software.
Facial Recognition Software
Facial recognition software is a touchy subject. There was backlash in late 2018 when Amazon shareholders demanded that Amazon not sell their facial recognition software, Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies. There are privacy concerns from the public that the government would misuse the facial data to track innocent people. Dr. Matt Woods from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU) wrote that the software only holds an 80% confidence threshold which is “far too low to ensure the accurate identification of individuals.”
Despite the outcries, law enforcement agencies are using facial recognition software systems to combat crime. In New York, the DMV’s database works with the facial recognition software to identify cases of fraud. “Since 2010, the system has notified DMV employees of 21,000 potential fraud cases.”
Britain’s largest police department spent more than 200,000 euros on facial recognition trials. Unfortunately, the media has highly criticized this decision as it had led to no arrests to date.
Still in its early stages, it will likely become clear over the next few years if this is a tool that most law enforcement agencies will adopt. There is a lot of potential here, but public opinion for this software is not a positive one.
The Future is Bright … and Uncertain
As of right now, it is unclear which of these technologies will be widely adopted by departments across the country. For example, body cameras for police officers are still heavily debated. Some departments are scaling them throughout their agencies, while others are choosing to drop their body camera initiatives due to high costs.
One thing is clear: technology will play more of a role in law enforcement. Technology is an asset that allows law enforcement agencies to protect the public better and catch criminals more efficiently.
Let us know, are there tech tools we didn’t mention?