Technology is playing a transformative role in contemporary law enforcement. Officers in law enforcement are using products of ongoing advances in technology in their operations. This has given them a performance edge as they can easily carry out investigations and enforce laws more effectively (Roberts, 2011). Law enforcers have particularly expanded their use of computer technology. Many law enforcement agencies have equipped their officers with recent computer technology like tablets. This is attributable to the lower costs and higher power of recent technological advancements. Other remarkable technologies being used in law enforcement include drones, automated license plate readers, body-worn cameras, and so forth. Law enforcement agencies have also used criminology and anthropology research data to build computer algorithms, which have been helpful in mapping crime hotspots. These algorithms have also been helpful in sharing limited resources (Friend, 2013). This paper is an analysis of the history of law enforcement technology, the recent advances in law enforcement technology and the influences that law enforcement technology has had on policing.
History of law enforcement technology
Among the earliest, law enforcement technologies were the telephone, police call boxes, the telegraph, early versions of systems for fingerprint identification, and the Bertillon system that was used to identify criminals. By the year 1920, these technologies were already in use. Shortly after the decade ended, fingerprint systems were improved and other inventions like handwriting classification systems and polygraphs were introduced. Other inventions that aided law enforcement during and beyond the Second World War include two-way radios and radar. Nine-one-one, the line used for emergency services was created during this time. After the 1970s, law enforcement agencies started embracing computer technology. “Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) was developed and implemented, and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) was formed. More enhanced 911 systems came into play and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) was implemented” (Hall, 2010, p. 1). In the 1990s, existing systems were made better and more computer systems aiding law enforcement were created.
Current advances in law enforcement technology
In the recent past, there have been a considerable number of advancements in law-enforcement technology. These advancements include robotic cameras and drones, Google Glass, social media, biometrics, smartphones, tablets and GPS (Roufa, 2013).
Google Glass is an emerging law enforcement technology in which officers in the field can wear special glasses, which give information about the people and buildings they look at. The glasses also record everything that the officer wearing them looks at. The glasses can therefore tell the officers if the people they look at have outstanding warrants of arrest. Although this technology may seem impractical, facial recognition is an already existing phenomenon, and thus with the right data and software, the technology can become a reality. This technology will make patrols more efficient and effective, and it is likely to increase the safety of officers on patrol.
Robotic cameras and drones
In dangerous crime scenes, some police departments have been using robotic cameras to view the scene and prepare accordingly. “The device has an electric motor and special wheels that allow it to move, climb and explore at the whim of an officer who operates it wirelessly” (Weiss, 2012, p. 1). The robotic camera, therefore, enables law enforcers to go to an active and dangerous crime scene without endangering their lives. The robotic camera can also save lives because it can monitor hostage cases and other similar situations.
Similarly, law enforcers can use drones to view active crime scenes and for surveillance purposes. “Unmanned drones can help patrol in ways and areas that police officers simply cannot” (Roufa, 2013, p.1). The drones have superior capability to police officers in such areas because they can view a large area. In addition to this, drones have an overhead view of crime scenes. Such drones are invaluable to law enforcers because they give live pictures and videos of crimes as they take place. Law enforcers can use such videos to plan responses to the aforementioned dangerous situations, leading to more effective law enforcement.
Smartphones and tablets
Smartphones and tablets are the most common technological advancements today. The two have found suitable applications in law enforcement. Tablets and smartphones are exceptionally useful in reporting and database querying. Officers can use these technologies to query a variety of justice-related databases from remote locations (Roberts, 2011). This implies that an officer in the field does not have to go back to the office to query databases and submit reports. The technology also enables officers to check up on their suspects as well as information about the location to which officers have been sent. The main advantage of using smartphones and tablets in law enforcement is that these devices are mobile and thus they save time.
The GPS (Global Positioning System) has been in use in law enforcement for some time. However, with the advent of smartphones, which have GPS, law enforcers are increasingly using GPS to solve crimes. Law enforcers can use GPS technology to trace phone calls and determine the fastest and safest route to the caller (Roufa, 2013). This enables the police to help people in a timely and efficient way. GPS is also used in recording traffic stops and crashes to come up with ways of reducing traffic accidents. GPS has also been used in distributing shifts and patrols among law enforcers because it can determine which areas have high crime prevalence. GPS can be utilized for management functions because it can indicate where specific officers are and the speed at which they are moving (Roufa, 2013).
Social media has provided a platform in which people share their thoughts, activities, feelings, and so forth. This information is invaluable to law enforcers because, through social media, law enforcement agencies can gather intelligence. Law enforcers can use social media to know locations where crimes take place as well as locations of suspects. Law enforcers have used Twitter and Facebook to solve or thwart a number of crimes. Law enforcers have also relied on YouTube-video evidence to prosecute numerous crimes that could have otherwise gone undetected (Bush, 2013). Although social media is fast losing popularity as a social platform, “its potential as a crime-fighting tool is just beginning to be realized” (Roufa, 2013, p. 1).
Biometrics like DNA, fingerprints, and retina scans are gaining popularity in law enforcement circles for the identification of suspects and securing of confidential data. Fingerprint scanning has evolved from a tedious process of using ink to more sophisticated technology like the use of handheld scanners that give instant fingerprint scans and check if a suspect has a criminal past (Roufa, 2013). Additionally, there are fingerprint scanners integrated in computer systems, which ensure that unauthorized people cannot access sensitive personal information and intelligence.
From the discussion above, it is apparent that technology has had a transformative influence on policing. All the technological advancements related to policing have brought about efficiency in investigations and surveillance. Drones, Google Glass, and robotic cameras have made police work safer. This is because they enable law enforcers to analyze situations before they act. Other technologies like GPS, social media, biometrics, tablets, and smart phones have increased the effectiveness of police work because they enable police to identify criminals easily.
Most common technology in law enforcement
Despite the fact that GPS has been in use in law enforcement for long, it remains the most common technology in contemporary law enforcement. The popularity of GPS is perhaps due to the increased use of smart phones and the reliability of GPS in tracing locations. GPS is being used in virtually all countries to track crime suspects, stolen vehicles, calls by victims of crime, abducted people, and so forth. Additionally, GPS gives law enforcers a planning advantage in that the officers get information about a certain crime from a remote location. This implies that the officers can properly plan on how best to deal with the issue.
Technology is constantly changing. As these changes are applied in law enforcement, policing and other careers in criminal justice and criminology change significantly. If such technology is properly applied, upholding constitutional concerns and with appropriate restraint, technology can revolutionize law enforcement and consequently lead to more secure communities. It is however important to note that most of these technologies are very expensive. In addition to this, some technologies like drones and GPS raise privacy concerns and may lead to legal suits against law enforcement agencies. Law enforcers and sophisticated criminals may misuse such technologies. It is therefore imperative that law enforcement technology is properly secured and controlled. Law enforcers should also be trained properly on how to use technology in their work.
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Roufa, T. (2013). Technologies That Are Changing the Way Police Do Business. Web.
Weiss, T. (2012). Cool cop tech: 5 new technologies helping police fight crime.