The Future of Police Technology

Technology changes so rapidly, keeping up with the latest innovations can be taxing. Now that most of the large public safety trade shows and expositions, such as the IACP conference, have come and gone, we’ve seen many of the year’s advances in police technology. Among the newest and most impactful technology, five major trends have made waves this year: mobility, body-worn cameras, biometrics, drones, and virtual and augmented reality.

Mobility

As tablets and smartphones become more affordable and accessible to public safety agencies, they are on their way to being as ubiquitous as laptops in patrol cars. Officers can take these devices with them virtually anywhere they go. Many tablets have comparable computing power to a desktop computer, meaning officers can do their work virtually anywhere. Applications for these devices allow officers to transmit and receive vital information on calls, quickly access maps for situational awareness, and file reports in the field, among many other functions. The mobility trend is growing, and all signs point to more development and improvement in this field.

Body-Worn Cameras

The past few years have shown that body-worn cameras, perhaps the most publicized police technology trend currently, are here to stay. These devices can improve community relations with more trust, accountability (for both officers and citizens), and transparency. Body-worn cameras can also facilitate and improve evidence collection and documentation. New applications of body-worn camera technology include live-streaming and automatic triggering, such as Responder Alert Weapon Drawn, which activates the camera when a gun is removed from its holster. Some research has shown that body-worn cameras can reduce public complaints against officers and positively affect the public’s views of their police force, while other studies have shown no significant effect. By and large, there is a lack of research in the area, yet departments implement the technology in increasing numbers. Many agencies have a number of concerns about these controversial technology. Some are worried about privacy, data retention, public disclosure policy, and the costs of body-worn camera initiatives. Agency administrations ought to know the needs of their communities, and with some guidelines, they can make the right call on how to best implement body-worn cameras.

Biometrics

Biometrics are not exactly new to policing, since fingerprints have been used in police work for over a century. However, the way in which police collect, process and analyze biometrics is changing as rapidly as the technology itself. For example, fast capture fingerprinting expedites inmate processing, security checks, criminal history checks, and field comparisons. In field biometrics, updated DNA and other biometric technology can improve officer safety, minimize or eliminate misidentification, and increase the speed of mobile image capture and transmission, which saves agencies time and money. Securely archiving legacy biometrics can be automated, bringing old records into the digital age.

Drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have been around for years. Their use in policing, however, is still in its infancy. As technology improves, better quality drones cost less to make, rendering them more accessible to even smaller departments. These drones have helped agencies in multiple ways. Departments can send drones into dangerous crimes-in-progress, such as a barricaded suspect or a hostage situation. With footage from drone cameras, they can gather vital information and assess whether it is safe to enter the situation, all without risking officer safety. Drones can be used for day-to-day operations as well. Even one or two drones can help patrol a much larger area than officers alone could cover. This could prove especially useful in time-critical situations, such as a missing persons search.

As with all new technologies, there are drawbacks and concerns with police forces using drones. Drones must be flown within FAA-approved airspace, which can restrict operations considerably. Depending on the size of the vehicles, wind can interfere, and most vehicles tend to break fairly often. Many citizens are concerned about their privacy, and extensive drone use can look like illegal surveillance to them.

Virtual & Augmented Reality

A hot topic in many arenas, some agencies are using virtual reality (VR) simulations to train officers for a myriad of situations they could encounter in the field. A common emphasis in these VR programs is use of deadly force. Agency administrators use these simulations to teach officers how to de-escalate tense encounters with citizens and avoid fatalities. Some VR setups even include an “electronic impulse device” that delivers a shock to trainees to help them make decisions while feeling pain. All of these technological advances serve to help agencies train their officers to make snap judgments in high-stress situations. As a close cousin to virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) is changing the police technology industry as well. Using wearable tech and smartphone apps, investigators can take a closer look at a crime scene without the worry of contaminating it. AR apps can facilitate collaboration in crime scene investigation and recreate and model crime scenes for juries and others. There is no telling what other applications AR will have for law enforcement in the future. Motorola Solutions recently used virtual reality to simulate a large command center and an incident scene, rotating through the points of view from a drone and a body-worn camera from the scene. The company also used augmented reality to show a 3D model of an incident scene in SWAT and fire and rescue scenarios. The potential applications of these technologies are only just beginning to be unlocked.

Learn More

These technologies are only a few in a wave of innovations available to public safety agencies today and in the future. As always, agency administrators should know which police technologies will best serve their needs and the needs of their communities. It’s important to stay informed on what is available and to make sure your public safety software accommodates the newest tools you acquire. What new policing technology will your agency implement in 2018? Take part in the conversation on social media using #TechnologyIsEvolving.