High-tech tools now a regular part of police work
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
There was a time when body cameras were met with a lot of resistance. Now we are looking at a future when videos captured by these cameras could potentially replace traditional written reports. Soon there may be facial recognition software built into these body cameras as well.
The rise in crime and terrorism has necessitated the growing use of technology for law enforcement work. Proponents stress how officers find it difficult to fight crime, quite understandably, without the right resources at hand.
As the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes, the growing arsenal of technology for police departments now includes body cameras, software to identify faces in surveillance videos, unmarked X-ray vans that can see through buildings and cars, license plate scanners and cellphone-hacking devices, among others.
Officers point out how deploying this onslaught of new technology will help them collect information on criminals and aid in their work efficiently. Big tech companies are also focusing on emerging technologies like AI and VR to fight crime in future.
High-tech policing is not restricted to high-end investigations, but starts right at the patrol level. Officers boot up a laptop at the beginning of their shift as they slide behind the wheel.
The feed shows everything from computer-aided dispatch, assignments and call records to details on warrants, criminal history checks and license plates via special cameras mounted on squad cars. Dashboard cameras and body cameras are now networked to each other, while special smartphone apps instantly give them a direct feed from the ShotSpotter network of gunfire-detecting sensors, case numbers and other pertinent information.
Tech companies like Axon are focused on inclusive law enforcement technologies that support police departments and in the process make emerging techs indispensable to police work. To this extent, Axon has even announced plans to supply every police officer in the country with a free body camera, along with free hardware and software training and support for one year.
In San Diego, new technology will allow police helicopter pilots connect with ground support using GPS instead of radios, which will aid them to track criminals and record crimes better.
The latest tech tools are also aimed at helping officers mine social media better. A disturbing number of offenses committed via live social sessions and the human propensity to post their whereabouts on social media have both necessitated the need for enhanced tech tools in this sphere. Agencies are ramping up their intelligence-gathering to alert officers even before trouble breaks out.
As far as forensic IT is concerned, software that can crack open locked cellphones, scourge through deleted text messages, photos and social media activity can go a long way to find and apprehend perpetrators of all kinds — pedophiles, terrorists and fraudsters alike.
Clearly, all these are meant to aid in better police work and safeguarding peace. Detractors are, however, claiming otherwise.
The same technology that is intended for criminals is also being used to access data and for surveillance of unsuspecting citizens as well. As police departments gather more information, there is a rapidly blurring line between collecting information and safeguarding privacy. The extent of surveillance and officers' access to the data is raising the alarm in several circles even as ordinary citizens remain unaware and unsuspecting.
The rapid emergence of such tech tools is evident, yet law enforcement agencies are reluctant to disclose what's in their high-tech arsenal. Local departments and state agencies are divided about the policies regarding surveillance, but in most cases they keep quiet due to pressure from the FBI.
Despite the immense criticism, they don't want criminals to know what tools and technology they have in their arsenal, and public knowledge would make officers more vulnerable.
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