We live in the age of technology. Everything seems to use some form of technology these days. Our central heating systems can be controlled wirelessly. There is more technology in our phones than there was in the lunar module, Eagle, that put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. We can draw the blinds in our living room with the touch of an iPad. And we can make sure our babies are sleeping well by watching them on a monitor attached to our wrists or belts. Technology has improved our lives no end, especially in terms of modern medicine and healthcare; but what it has achieved in the world of law enforcement is as astonishing as any.
Technology has exploded onto the policing scene and completely transformed the way in which officers around the globe go about completing just about all of their duties, from paperwork to surveillance. Every aspect has been advanced, and areas that were never even considered as avenues within law enforcement have since been exploited with devastating effect. What was once science-fiction is now a reality.
Let’s start with the basic stuff; social media.
We all care about privacy. We all feel our stomachs twist and turn when we read articles about the big brother state we are slipping into. The majority of us don’t seem to care enough to enforce privacy of our lives. We don’t seem to care that big brother can watch us with such ease. We all setup and use social media accounts, and not just one, but loads. We have Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter and a whole lot more. What’s more, social media has brought about an era of social status whereby we share everything we do to get more likes or followers.
As such, social media has become one of the most used and successful tools when it comes to the search for justice. It has become a regularly used tool employed by enforcement agencies, analysts, probation services and community support officers. The reason social media has become so effective is that it allows the law to paint a picture of an offender. It allows them to gather intelligence such as appearance, habits, location, friends and families. All of this can help track an individual down.
The other way in which social media has played a huge part in solving crimes is through its work as platforms for sharing. We have all seen videos of crimes taking place, and circulating as a means of bringing the offender on camera to justice. Social media was built as a place to hangout with friends online, and quickly became used as an effective business tool. But what most people haven’t realized is how effective it is in the hands of the law.
Technology has made identification far more sophisticated.
It was once a matter of dusting down a scene to try and find fingerprints. The police would have to cordon off a crime scene, dust it down in the hope of finding a fingerprint and then have to manually flip through a booklet of fingerprints in the hope of finding one that would match. Long, arduous and usually unsuccessful. However, this is no longer the case, because the rise of biometric technology has now expanded into facial recognition, retina scanning, and DNA. That’s right. DNA scans are no longer reserved for those looking into how much a paternity test costs, they are now used to identify individuals involved in a case.
This has seen what would have once taken months, now take a matter of moments. Handheld scanners are now used by police forces around the world. But it isn’t just speed that has been affected; cost has dramatically reduced while both accuracy and efficiency have increased. This means that offenders can not only be identified more effectively, but any chance of them fleeing while the police catches up has been reduced to. The police are now able to lock onto their target instantly.
You think your car is high-tech, check out what the cops have.
Both police and traffic officers have seen the technical equipment available to them exploded over recent years. A few years ago, a speed camera was about as snazzy as it got. But these days there is tech mounted to every panel of every vehicle and these bits of tech are linked up to central databases that feed information back as quickly as they receive it. Cameras and electronic tag readers can now scan every detail of a car with its field of range and instantly check for tax, registration, insurance and history.
So instead of the officers having to act on a suspicion and call dispatch to check their hunch is anything more, they now just have to wait for a bleep that will confirm whether a car is stolen, unregistered, untaxed or uninsured. After which it is just a matter of turning on the lights, pulling them over and apprehending the suspect. This has been incredibly successful in recovering stolen cars and unmasking criminals.
While this is only in operation within the state of New York, it is surely going to catch on because law enforcement agencies in other major cities are already salivating at the idea of this. While we call it The Dashboard, it is essentially a domain awareness system that collates a host of data from an incredibly wide array of sources that is made available to the police force almost instantly.
The sources of data that are used include crime reports, criminal histories, maps, cameras, and surveillance. What this means is a real-time account of things can be provided to analysts, whether that is hard data in the form of worded information or video footage. This means that ongoing investigations can progress with more accuracy while new calls and leads can be better handled from the outset. It is policing on steroids. It is truly magnificent. Thank you, Microsoft.
We all have mobile devices, but how the cops use them is on another level.
We use phones to scroll through Facebook in an attempt to keep up with the soap opera that is each of our lives and the lives of our friends. We use tablets to play Candy Crush and Angry Birds and Clash of Clans. We use it to stalk our exes on Instagram and to plan how we are going to do some sleek home improvements without spending a dime, thanks to Pinterest. But how the cops use their phones and tablets is entirely different.
We may only be at the start of this evolution, but it is already proving incredibly useful to cops. Just imagine you have apprehended a suspect who doesn’t speak English. Well, smartphones now serve officers as portable translation devices allowing them to understand and communicate with non-English offenders. They also allow officers to print out tickets on the spot. They let users instantly look at someone’s criminal history and quickly ascertain who it is the are dealing with and make calculated decisions based on the facts in front of them, facts that are based on the data main servers provide. It doesn’t matter where they are, or who they suspect is, they now have an effective tool in their pocket that can handle a myriad of tasks and responsibilities.
Global Positioning Systems that are little more sophisticated than your TomTom.
We use satnav’s to help us get to a doctor’s appointment or a meeting, or basically anywhere these days. And yes, the police have been relying on them for years and years. But GPS has expanded within this realm too. It has become seriously sophisticated. The most incredible upgrade has been in the accuracy. Police officers are now able to pinpoint exactly where a call is made from. What’s more, they can find out the quickest and safest route there in a flash, with their GPS devices taking in a wide range of factors from time of day to traffic to roadworks.
But it isn’t just about getting to a situation as fast as possible; it is about making an audit trail too. Let’s say they pull over an unsafe driver, or attend a crash; they are now able to record the exact location of these events that will then be stored on a central system. This information can then be used to help prevent these types of events from occurring in the future.
By recording other information, like the location of crimes, analysts are also given a better chance to understand any trends that may be emerging, and thus provide guidance on where an additional presence of the law should be placed to prevent these trends from continuing or building momentum. And it won’t just be a matter of where these crimes are happening, it will also allow them to know when. This means that patrols can be setup to mimic the information at hand.
What’s more, they can also be used to monitor officers, and maintain a level of accountability by knowing who was where and the speeds they were doing, for example. This will allow for better management of individual personnel and thus keep the enforcement more honest than traditionally seen.