3 Ways Technology Is Improving Law Enforcement

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As technology changes and improves, they come with new dangers, new security considerations, and new concerns for government and law enforcement. President Barack Obama spoke on the need to combat cyber-espionage and cyber-terrorism in his State of the Union Address. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said something to the same effect in her response. On the national and international level, technology is clearly a national security concern, as well as a tool. At home, cyber-crime is also an extremely dangerous adversary that federal and state law enforcement must now combat, meaning staffing computer experts, programers, and developing new programs to keep up with and compete with hackers and criminals.

However, technology advancement also offers new tools and methods for handling old crime. Crimes with a history stretching back as far as law enforcement are tackled in new and interesting ways thanks to new tools and the changing role of Internet and social media on communication. Let’s look at three pieces of technology that have already permeated police departments and proven useful.

1. AMBER Alert and social media

Social media can be an unfortunate presence in society these days. It lessens real interpersonal interaction, fuels narcissistic tendencies of our generation (a.k.a. the “selfie”), and generally changes some of our social habits for the worse. But it also allows friends and family to connect more easily, allows a platform for sharing ideas and information, planning events, organizing social movements, protests, and even political involvement. And now, it may help police to find missing children.

According to an announcement from Attorney General Eric Holder last month, AMBER Alert, the police program for locating lost or kidnapped children, would be going social. “The Department of Justice (DOJ) is partnering with Facebook and Bing in order to expand the reach of the AMBER Alert system,” reads a DOJ release on the matter. “Finding an abducted child and returning him or her to safety depends on a fast response.”

For this reason, social media is very useful. Information about something as simple as how to use rubber bands to open jars, or what the funniest Super Bowl commercial was, can spread like wildfire, or like a virus. If that sort of speech and reach can be used to find endangered or lost children more quickly, it would be a significant and important tool. 2. Body cams

Given recent events in Ferguson, Mo. — racial tensions and subsequent protests across the country following the death of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner — police officers have been under heavy scrutiny.

Exactly how shootings and altercations progress from start to finish becomes incredibly important, both to the safety and defense of officers doing their jobs, and to citizens facing undue aggression or racial prejudice. Body cameras have been one solution offered by technological advances that could protect both citizens and officers.

A picture’s worth a thousand words and video, many more,” said Peter Bibring of the American Civil Liberty Union to CBS. “And video, from the perspective of the officer, is going to be an invaluable tool in determining why an officer acted the way he or she did — and whether he or she acted appropriately.” Of course, body cams are only useful if they’re left on and the view is unimpeded, but they’re another tool without bias that can help lawyers, police departments, and families understand events after-the-fact. 3. UAV/drones

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, also known as drones, have a mixed history and future with police. On the one hand, they can be useful tools for surveying a situation from above, helping officers avoid shooters, navigate dangerous wreckage or landscape. They can help to patrol areas where officers might not be able to go, or might not have the manpower to visit as often as needed, upping security with their presence. On the other hand, they constitute a privacy concern for many, and the laws for how, when, and where they should be allowed to be used are still problematic.

For some they are simply a tool, but for others they are an added expense with risk of crashing, new training needs, and risk of overstepping boundaries. Even so, they’ll unquestionably play a role in the future, especially once legal aspects and policy outlines are more stable across and within states.

There are other changes to technology that haven’t come to fruition yet, but have potential. One example would be smart-guns, weapons for officers that can’t be fired by anyone without the correct fingerprint. Each new piece of tech comes with challenges and expenses, not to mention a myriad of often justifiable concerns. But it’s important to remember that while risks expand with development and change, so do opportunities and tools.

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