In this essay, I will present my thoughts on the importance of the Internet as a law enforcement tool. For reference, I’ll mainly use Raymond Foster’s Police Technology handbook as it’s considered the Bible of information related to technological advances when applied to law enforcement. I will also use my experiences as a police officer to corroborate the use of the Internet as an expeditionary device for achieving various tasks during our service. These include communicating within various police departments, communicating with the public/media, and keeping track of crime statistics while generating crime maps to show the latest crime locations (Schwabe, Davis and Jackson, 2001, p.108).
Dr. Raymond Foster, LAPD (retired) is considered a top cop in the annals of American policing history. He has always been a firm proponent of embracing the latest technological tools to solve criminal cases. His views on the Internet have been shaped by the medium’s ability to combine speed and efficacy in improving the investigative capacity of a criminal case (Foster, 2004, p. 201). Indeed, when it comes to researching the nitty-gritty of the Internet system, he has left no stone unturned in his book, Police Technology.
Foster and other authors point out that the Internet was born in 1969 due to project initiatives by many government organizations including the US Department of Defense, which sought to achieve a worldwide mechanism for the user to user, user to the computer, and computer to computer communications that would span corporate and national boundaries (Foster, 2004, p. 199; Miller, 2004, p. 1). Other US research institutions such as the University of California, the University of Colorado, and the University of Texas also contributed to seeing the success of this project.
Nowadays, thanks to the past collaborative efforts of the above agencies, the Internet has blossomed into a worldwide system of interrelated networks that help in achieving unified information access for a user living in a distant location, all at the tip of a mouse. As a police officer, I feel that the posting of information on the Internet makes our operations more streamlined and allows us to reach the public in so many different ways that weren’t possible earlier.
Today, nearly 100% of local police departments use the Internet to allow the public to reach us through department emails. The Internet also provides general information about the various police department, as well as other value-added services (Schwabe, Davis and Jackson, 2001, p.108).
For instance, our state department police website also hosts information related to crime statistics which shows the location of various crime incidents (Schwabe, Davis and Jackson, 2001, p.108). They also expose sex offenders, criminal fugitives, and other individuals hiding from justice. In addition, they provide helpful information on missing persons. Here, it is proper to relate my own experiences as a police officer. While recently investigating a homicide case in my county, I came across vital information about the suspects which were posted in a distant police station.
So, instead of traveling to another town for collecting the much-needed evidence, I was able to access the same information from my hosting station. Reflecting on this, I feel that had it not been for the advent of Internet technology in today’s age, this case would have remained unsolved for months at a stretch.
Dr. Foster has also narrated about a similar experience in his book where he talks in length about the opportunities not missed due to quick and easy access of information about criminals, as well as shortening investigation cycles which prove to be very handy in cases which have tight deadlines (Foster, 2004, p. 204).
There are several other advantages of growing Internet usage among police, courts, and correction agencies. First, it results in more accurate and timely information to be made available to the Police as we consider alternative courses of action, and have to be in a hurry to take a decision (Pattavina, 2005, p.245).
Second, if one has to consider the larger picture, the Internet has also had an impact on the detection rates of regular crime, especially financial crimes (Foster, 2004, p.211). In the past, we had to check with the Internal Revenue Service or the suspect’s bank for any information related to his/her financial health which would incur additional constraints such as receiving permissions, surfing through stretches of filed documentation, and taking additional measures to verify the authenticity of those documents.
Needless to say, it was a tiresome process that would cause unnecessary delays and frustrations. Ever since the advent of the Internet, accessing a suspect’s financial dealings and bank accounts has become a piece of cake. The conviction of Martha Stewart, the magazine socialite comes to mind here. It was one of the first pieces of recorded evidence of the use of the Internet as an investigative tool.
Another helpful online tool is the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. It is extremely useful for police officers on patrol and routine traffic spots. This database enables us to apprehend suspects who want to cross state lines or those who were able to surprise officers unaware of their criminal credentials (Foster, 2004, p. 213; Pattavina, 2005, p.245).
Now, that almost 100% of criminal history records are automated, data quality has improved to the point where officers get full and comprehensive information about criminal suspects without having to verify the information for any inconsistency or errors. Since the databases are regularly updated and verified, we have little concern about their validity.
The Internet has also helped us achieve access to centralized databases about fingerprints, DNA records, and information related to photo enhancements, blood, hair, and fiber technology, and other investigative data (Foster, 2004, p.221). According to Dr. Foster, the Internet solves the department’s need to access information related to a suspect’s criminal record without there being any false accusations of racial profiling, harassment, or anecdotes of custody torture (Foster, 2004, p.222).
In addition, the department can easily pursue strategies such as questioning repeat offenders or offenders just released from prison and identifying and tracking gang members and their symbols (Pattavina, 2005, p.245). Recently, one of our team members was assigned the task of extracting information from a bunch of Los Angeles-based Crips/Bloods gang members regarding some of their co-accused criminals who are wanted for murder and robbery. The task was achieved without the need to depend on a lengthy interrogation process through already apprehended gang members. As it is, gang members are bound by a code of silence which precludes them from sharing any information about their friends with the police.
By simply setting up a routine inquiry on their whereabouts and school information (most of the apprehended criminals were juvenile), our team member was able to access information related to all their gang acquaintances from a local Los Angeles database. After that, it was quite easy to fit all pieces of the jigsaw.
Foster, R. (2004). Police Technology. Princeton, NJ: Prentice Hall Publishers.
Miller, M. (2004). Internet Technology Handbook: Optimizing the IP Network. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Pattavina, A. (2005). Information Technology and the Criminal Justice System. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Schwabe, W., Davis, L.M., & Jackson, B.A. (2001). Challenges and Choices for Crime-fighting Technology: Federal Support for State and Local Law Enforcement. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.