How Technology is Changing Law Enforcement

We all remember crime novels from the ‘60s. Gruff, street smart detectives walking the beat, knocking on doors, interviewing everyone and combing gruesome crime scenes with a fine-tooth comb were the cornerstone of any good crime thriller. These days, much of that still happens, but there’s an added layer of complexity to both sides of the law. Technology has undoubtedly changed the way law enforcement works, and it will continue to change it as time goes by. It’s absolutely important for law enforcement and those chasing the criminals to adapt and evolve with them.

Let’s have a look at some of the many different areas in which technology is evolving and improving, leading to a change in the way law enforcement does their job.

The Social Media Impact

Of course, we need to start with social media. The prolific penetration of social media into our lives means that enterprising criminals will embrace it, and they certainly have. Law enforcement needs to know what it’s used for. Social media is used by an incredibly broad range of criminals – from the high-profile use of terrorist cells using it for recruitment and organization of their attacks, to the common burglar for knowing when a house might be empty thanks to those living there posting about going on holiday.

Data sharing via these social media networks can have unintended consequences too. As an example, consider Waze, the crowd-sourced traffic information navigation app. It has a feature where users can report police presence in the app, which is then shared with drivers in the area. This might severely limit the ability of police to conduct effective roadblocks or similar.

From the side of law enforcement, this same mass use of social media has just as many advantages as it does threats. They are able to use services like Facebook to communicate with their constituencies, publishing a need for and subsequently gathering information from them. It also allows law enforcement to gather information from these services to get a picture of what a victim might have been doing leading up to an incident – or the same for a suspect too. Things like checking alibis is something that these social media networks are invaluable for.

Facial Recognition Systems

Human beings are full of uniquely identifying features. The most common of these used in law enforcement in the past have been things like fingerprints or DNA, but this scope is expanding rapidly. Perhaps the most useful biometrics technology to find prominence recently is facial recognition software. At it’s most basic, it allows a rapid identification of people, particularly suspects, because it can be applied to crime scene videos and even live systems for instant identification.

Consider the use of facial recognition systems at a roadblock, where drivers or passengers can be instantly identified by a facial recognition system. Not only will it speed up the flow of people through a roadblock, it would mean that those without identification can also be quickly processed. It might also be applied to sporting events where large gatherings of people can be found to identify potential threats early using pre-crime technology, which we’ll look at shortly.

Some other places where facial recognition might be useful include:

  • Shopping centres and malls
  • Music concerts
  • Schools and colleges
  • Museums and other public places of interest
  • Churches
  • Movie theatres

Licence Plate Recognition Technology

Faces aren’t the only thing that these video recognition cameras can identify, however. They can be incredibly useful for the identification and record-keeping of vehicle licence plate information too. Many neighbourhoods and business campuses are employing the use of licence plate recognition technology to record vehicles that are entering and exiting the area. If this can be done and compared to a list of licence registrations that live or work in the area, visitors and strangers – and thereby potential threats – can be identified.

If there’s a crime committed, these licence plate recognition records can be used to identify cars that were in the area at the time and give law enforcement a good lead on potential perpetrators. If used proactively, just like face recognition systems, they can also form part of an effective pre-crime technology strategy.

The Use of Data in Crime Prediction

Access to data and the ease at which it can be stored and used to identify trends and patterns made the use of data in crime prediction and prevention an obvious progression for law enforcement. One of the most innovative ways that this is happening is via pre-crime technology, where collated data is being used as predictive analytics.

Analysts are able to use data in a number of ways.

  • Identifying Similarities Across Cases – analysts might be able to use data to link cases together based on things that might be the same. If a number of murders have correlating methods or unique murder weapons and similar, the use of data might link them.
  • Gathering Personal Information – If law enforcement is looking for someone or trying to contact someone, being able to get their personal information from more than one source quickly will assist them.
  • Predictive Analytics – Using data to create models of potential threats based on any number of things can be useful in predicting crimes or people who are at higher risk of committing crimes.
  • Licence Plate and Facial Recognition – Identifying vehicles or people accessing areas they shouldn’t be and acting proactively to prevent potential crimes or lawbreaking.

Data is incredibly useful in so many ways to law enforcement, and the technology enabling it to be instantly useful is only getting better and more useful. Criminology degrees and certifications like those offered by Wilfrid Laurier University teach these modern methods.

Cameras and Where to Put Them

The ready access to visual assistance and other technologies to law enforcement is undeniably beneficial. There are the obvious uses of cameras like CCTV systems in retail and business environments, but there are many other places where cameras are being installed and used by law enforcement.

  • Drones – Law enforcement use drones to quickly get a wider view of an area, or the ability to recon areas without having to put the lives of police officers at risk – like to explore a potential bomb threat.
  • Dashboard and Body Cameras – Having both a record and a live view from a police officer’s vehicle or person can be incredibly helpful to law enforcement. Routine stops can be recorded and monitored for threats. It also keeps officers honest and prevents police brutality or false claims thereof.
  • K9 Cameras – Adding a camera to a police K9 unit’s dog can be used to provide reconnaissance into hard to reach areas, and as dogs are quicker than their human counterparts, it can provide tracking information should a suspect flee.

Beyond cameras, systems like GPS are being extensively used by law enforcement too. It allows quicker response to calls by GPS directions, but it also allows departments to have an overview of police officer distribution in a city to cover their jurisdiction better.

Gun Listening Systems

You might have heard gunshots in the distance in the past, but if someone asked you to locate it, you might realise just how difficult that might be to do. Gunshot listening systems, which are designed to do just that, are finding their use becoming a lot more commonplace as the technology improves.

These systems have some minor differences, but at the core, they all work in much the same way. Microphones are deployed across strategic locations in a city or area, and when a gunshot is heard, the sound from each of these microphones is processed by a computer system to determine the location of the gunshot. This is reported to law enforcement.

The installation of gunshot detection systems is becoming more and more common, and many cities around the world are using it. Increasingly, larger private companies are also deploying this technology, including college campuses.

Mobility in Policing

Being able to install computers into police cars has many different advantages to the modern police force and their ability to react to certain threats. They can be used for:

  • Broadcasting and receiving updates from a central command
  • Fingerprint scanning results
  • Maps and GPS Navigation

The longest-serving use of these in-car computers has been for reading or submitting police reports. Submitting a report on the go has some real advantages, most noticeably that reports written sooner means more accuracy and details, as officers aren’t expected to recall information hours after an event.

As you can tell, technology might pose some additional risks in the area of law enforcement and some new advantages for criminals, but it also holds many advantages to those police officers and technical staff protecting us. By embracing the almost infinite possibilities presented to us by technology, we’ll need to do less walking door to door relying on witnesses and more predictive and pre-crime prevention so there will be less need for it. Science fiction movies like Minority Report might have been far-fetched 20 years ago, but these days, the kinds of advances we see in technology mean that we might not be far off being able to accomplish the premise proposed by these movies.

Joe Miragliotta is a caffeine addict, social media freak and a tech junkie. When first creating the concept was small; Post diary-like content to share with the world of all things he was into. Now it's grown to be much more than that. You'll find travel, food & drink, design, tech, entertainment and more!

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