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Police Technology Essay

1. Introduction

A gun may be a useful tool to arrest a suspect in a traditional crime scene, but what about a crime committed on the Internet to steal billions of dollars in a few minutes or even confidential information? Will guns be useful in this case?

According to Goodman, “the world isn’t run by weapons anymore, or energy, or money, it’s run by ones and zeros … It’s not about who has the most bullets. Art’s about who controls the information –what we see and hear, how we work, what we think. It’s all about information.” (p.466)

With the technological revolution we have nowadays, that changed every aspect of our lives representing new threats and new crimes, police officers should be equipped with new technological tools or techniques to be able to face these new challenges.

This paper aims at giving an idea about police technology and how does technology help police officers by defining the term “police technology”, shading the light on history of police technology, and giving some of the impacts of technology on police work and practice.

2. Definitions

To understand exactly how does technology help police officers, this section will define what is meant by both terms “technology” and “police technology”.

2.1 Technology

The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia defines technology as “Application of knowledge to the practical aims of human life or to changing and manipulation the human environment. Technology includes the use of materials, tools, techniques, and sources of power to make life easier or more pleasant and work more productive. Whereas science is concerned with how and why things happen, technology focuses on making thing happen.”

2.2 Police Technology

According to Encyclopedia Britannica the term “police technology” refers to “the wide range of scientific and technological methods, techniques, and equipment used in policing.”

3. Police Technology in History and Literature
This section will shade the light on the history of police technology since 1840 when officers only had guns and night-light sticks, “then came technological progress with the invention of the patrol wagon and signal service (which have) effected a revolution in police methods.” (Seaskate, Inc). (See police technology timeline in Table 1)

“The adoption of information technology by police departments in the united States is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before 1987, less than 2% of the 2.200 US police departments with fewer than 100 employees used computers. And as recently as 2003, only 40% of police departments had mobile computer terminals.” (CentrePience)

Moving to information technology,  “only in recent years have many agencies found the use of information technologies significantly helpful. Examples include fingerprinting databases, computerized crime mapping, and records management systems doing everything from inventory property and cataloging evidence to calculating solvability factors.” (Seaskate, Inc)

3.1 The political era (1840-1920)

This period witnessed technological advances such as “telegraph, telephone, police callboxes, Bertillon system of criminal identification” (Seaskate, Inc) and (Stewart, R. W.). “The advent of fingerprinting in the 1900s and of crime laboratories in the 1920s greatly augmented the police capacity to solve crimes”. (Seaskate, Inc)

3.2 The professional model era or Nationalization of Crime (1920-1970)

This period witnessed efforts that tried to “rid the government of undesirable political influences and create what they deemed professional police departments” (Seaskate, Inc). “The model was the crime laboratory in Berkeley, California, Police Department then the FBI inaugurated its own laboratory which eventually became recognized as the most comprehensive and technologically advanced forensic laboratory in the world” (Seaskate, Inc).

This period “saw the widespread police adoption of the automobile and the introduction of two-way radios” (Seaskate, Inc). Then, in response to rapidly rising crime rates and urban disorders, the Crime Commission was established in the 1960s (Seaskate, Inc). This period witnessed the nationalization of crime. “In 1967, the Crime Commission produced a long report that gave recommendations, 11 of them dealing with police technology (Seaskate, Inc). The President’s Crime Commission found that the nation’s criminal justice system suffered from a significant Science and technology gap (Seaskate, Inc).

Then came “the advent of 911 after the commission called for establishment of a single telephone number that Americans could use to call the police” (Seaskate, Inc). The computerization for American policing was a result for the commission’s recommendations and the 911 system (Seaskate, Inc). “The 911 system became enhanced (E911) when computer got smarter, showing the telephone number, address, and in some cases, the name of the person who owned the number” (Seaskate, Inc).

“One of the most important computer-based innovations in American policing was the advent of National Crime Information Center (NCIC), administered by FBI” (Seaskate, Inc). Computers also were “essential in the development of Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS)” (Seaskate, Inc).

3.3 The Community Policing Era or Computerization of American Policing (Since 1970)

The introduction of computers into policing corresponded to the beginning of the third and current era in American policing or “the Community Policing Era” from 1970 up till now (Seaskate, Inc).

“In 1995, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) was created by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994”. (ITI, p.3) With funding provided by COPS and other federal and state grant programs, the use of computers in law enforcement gained widespread acceptance in law enforcement agencies of all sizes. (ITI p.3)

4. The Impact of Technology on Police Work

Technology has had its impacts on police work especially since the process of computerization of American policing (Figure1 in the appendices shows trends in technology use by police agencies).

According to Davis, J. N., “the continuing development of computer technology has had critical impacts on law enforcement. Mobile data terminals in police cars, automatic vehicle locator systems, and computer-assisted dispatch are now commonly found in police departments. The use of expert systems and artificial intelligence by police agencies in the United States and Canada is on the increase. Examples can be found in agencies ranging from small rural Alliance, Nebraska to urban Baltimore County, Maryland”. (p.1)

This section will show how does technology affect police work either in increasing effectiveness, enhancing officer safety, or assisting law enforcement agencies to meet new challenges of terrorism and cyber crimes.

4.1 Increased Effectiveness

Research showed that “police departments that adopted computers together with IT management/governance practices such as CompStat did experience reduced property and violent crime and significantly increased crime clearance rates (by around 8%). Thus, researchers concluded that computers do increase the effectiveness of police work, but only if police work is substantially reorganized to take advantage of their presence” (CentrePiece, p.2).

Also according to ITI, “Significant technological breakthroughs have resulted in products that have increased their crime solving effectiveness” (P.4). For example “studies led to the widespread use of night vision gear by today’s police agencies” (ITI, p.4). A technology such as fingerprint reader “has resulted in the creation of automatic fingerprint identification systems (AFIS)”. (ITI, p.4) “AFIS has resulted in the clearance of thousands of crimes that would have otherwise gone unsolved”. (ITI, P.4)

The “enhanced” 911 “allowed dispatchers to see on their computers screen the address and telephone number from which a 911 emergency call originated” (ITI, p.4).

 “The miniaturization of body microphones and closed circuit television has benefited law enforcement in a variety of investigative and crime prevention initiatives”. (ITI, P.4)

4.2 Changed the Role of Police and How They Carry Out Their Duties

Technology has changed the role of both police officers and law enforcement agencies. “With the introduction of the Community Oriented Policing model, a dramatic change occurred in how agencies measured their effectiveness”. (ITI, P.3) The previous section showed that COPS was a result for introducing computers into policing.  “The emphasis on quick response to calls for services and the number of arrests made and crimes cleared was replaced by the reduction of crimes committed”. (ITI, P.3)

“The COPS program promoted the development of close/citizen relationships with a focus on improving the quality of life on a neighborhood-to-neighborhood basis. From this effort grew programs such as neighborhood Policing and Problem Solving Policing” (ITI, P.3). “For the COPS concept to be successful officers needed timely information about crime patterns and other social problems occurring on their beats”. (ITI, P.3)

“In police practice the possibility to access and use electronic records has opened up a new way of gathering information for police officers. This has created and developed new ways of working for police officers: they can gather more information when involved in operational work as well as when they are present physically at the police station”. (Borglund, E.)

4.3 Improved Record Keeping and Report Writing

Computers have led to a key advantage “improved recordkeeping”. “Research showed that introducing computers for record-keeping did increase the amount of recorded ‘minor crimes’ such as larceny” (CentrePiece, p.2).

According to Davis, J. N., “police report writing has also evolved with changes in technology, especially the use of lap-top computers. The continued development of new computer technologies will also bring changes in police report writing”. (p.1)

4.4 Enhances Officer Safety

“Significant technological breakthroughs have resulted in products that have improved officer safety” (ITI, P.4). “Soft body armor has saved hundreds of officers from death or serious injury” (ITI, P.4).

“Information used in conjunction with Computer Aided Dispatch software allowed dispatchers to warn officers of potential dangers and the history of previous calls at locations prior to their arrival”. (ITI, P.4)

The use of safe weapons such as “non-lethal weapons such as the Taser, beanbag shells and pepper mace had been added to the list of force options available to officers in the field” (ITI, p.4).

4.5 Assist Local Law Enforcement Agencies Meet the New Challenges of Terrorism and Cyber Crime

According to Reichert, K. “creative uses of information technology have the potential to increase the capacity and effectiveness of law enforcement in fulfilling its complex mission today. Including increased demands in the post-September 11 World”. (p.4)

“The pace of the use of technology in law enforcement continues to accelerate. New technologies such as the use of DNA for the criminal investigation, the growth of AFIS and Livescan fingerprinting systems, GPS tracking, and reverse-911 software are all computer dependent systems now being more widely used by agencies around the country”. (ITI, p.4)

“New hardware such as Personal Digital Assistance (PDAs) and other wireless devices such as web-enabled cellular telephones are changing the way information is collected and shared”. (ITI, p.4) “The 911 systems have precipitated the use of computerized mapping and links between 911 systems and computer aided dispatch software” (ITI, p.4). “Incident-based reporting is being implemented across the country requiring new records management software designed to capture and report crime statistics electronically” (ITI, p.4). “The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon significantly increased awareness for the need to share information between law enforcement agencies at all levels of government”. (ITI, p.4)

“Antiquated radio systems are being replaced so that multiple agencies can communicate during joint operations and disaster responses. Integration of computer databases is being developed for intelligence gathering and criminal investigation”. (ITI, p.4)

“Detection technology, protection equipment and training are being provided to public safety personnel to meet the challenges of a nuclear, biological or chemical threat as well as an attack using conventional weapons”. (ITI, p.4)

“The use of the Internet for the commission of crimes is increasing at an alarming rate”. (ITI, p.4) “Thieves, hackers, hate groups, pedophiles, cyberspace stalkers, drug cartels and terrorist groups freely use the Internet to carry out their illegal activities”. (ITI, p.4) The Internet also offers many benefits to law enforcement” (ITI, p.5). “The ability to share information between agencies and with the public has been greatly enhanced by the use of the internet”.


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