Current and Emerging Law Enforcement Technologies

Posted: February 15, 2017

Police Body Cameras

Stationary closed-circuit televisions were the predecessors to the current police body cameras. The CCTV dates back to the 1970s, where they were mounted on public spaces for crime control. Mobile forms of police cameras were promulgated with the proliferation and effectiveness of the dashboard cameras mounted on police cruisers to tame as well as provide crucial evidence in cases involving driving-under-influence of alcohol. The Danish Police was the first law enforcement organization to adopt the police body cameras. This followed successful pilot studies that demonstrated the potential of police-worn cameras to improve police accountability as well as the quality of the evidence collected. In the United States, Rialto Police Department pioneered the use of Police body cameras. Additionally, the shooting of Michael Brown triggered a debate on the crucial role police cameras can play in taming police misconduct and this precipitated the widespread use of these cameras in many police departments across the country. Police body cameras comprise of a video recording system used by law enforcement organizations to record the police-public interaction. The cameras are akin to a closed-circuit television in terms of their operations. For instance, they have a storage system whose content can be retrieved later for analysis. The cameras are pertinent in the documentation of a crime scene. For instance, the technology has also helped in improving the preservation of evidence collected from a scene of crime by documenting the chain of custody (Mateescu & Alex, 2015).

Implications for Law Enforcement Organizations

The police body cameras have been criticized for their potential to infringe on the citizen’s right to privacy. The cameras record information which in case it is indiscriminately released to unauthorized individuals can have huge impacts on a victim’s reputation. As police officers go about their law enforcement duties, they encounter citizens at embarrassing and tragic moments. This mostly happens when police respond to a call of distress raised concerning domestic violence. As such, police organizations ought to have a privacy policy that guides on their officer’s use of body cameras. A study conducted by Police Executive Research Forum, found, “only approximately a third of all agencies that responded to the survey reported having any written policies on the use of police body cameras” (Mateescu & Alex, 2015). Even for the departments that reported having a written policy, only a few had the document easily accessible to the members of the public. The police body cameras are not without shortcomings. One of their weaknesses is that they may not effectively capture everything that transpires during the police-public interaction. This can be demonstrated during the trial of the LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King. According to Katz (2014), the defendants’ lawyers in the Rodney case successfully argued that the camera that recorded their client’s interaction with King failed to capture the alleged aggressive behavior by King that triggered their use of excess force to subdue him. The use of police body cameras has received a mixed reaction from members of the law enforcement organizations. According to  Katz (2014), the use of police body cameras requires that law enforcement officers complete severe reports that could be daunting. While some police officers are happy that the information recorded by the camera can exonerate them in a case of wrongful accusations, others raise concern over the increased workload as well as the potential of the devices to vindicate them.

Role of Law Enforcement Manager

Police body cameras have a significant influence on the way law enforcement managers execute their responsibilities. According to the IACP National Law Enforcement Policy Center (2014), police body cameras have proved vital in helping police managers evaluate an individual officer in a more fair and complete manner. Also, law enforcement managers can rely on the police body cameras to defend their agencies in civil and criminal litigations where one of their juniors is the accused. “Many police-citizen interactions lack objective witnesses; and as such, most jurisdiction opt to pay for minor damages instead of facing the tedious litigation process” (IACP National Law Enforcement Policy Center, 2014). As such, police managers will save their respective agencies huge amount of money in litigation fees and damages if they ensure that all police officers they are supervising wear the cameras.

Benefits to the Public

The police body cameras have the potential of protecting the public from possible police misconduct. Mateescu & Alex  (2015) give an example of the shooting of Michael Brown by the police in August 2014. According to Wing (2014), a research conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida revealed the use-of-force incidents by the police dropped by 53% among police officers who wore cameras. On the other hand, “citizen’s complains against the police officers who wore the cameras plummeted by 23 %” (Katz, 2014). Also, Wing (2015) reports that the research conducted by the University of South Florida’s researchers revealed that cases of citizens’ injuries perpetrated by police officers dropped significantly.  Additionally, the cameras can provide vital evidence in cases involving the police infringing on individuals’ right or overstepping their mandate. 

Facial Recognition Technology

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2012), the automatic face recognition technology dates back to the 1960s. The first automatic facial recognition technology required that the administrator identifies features such as the mouth, eyes, nose, and ears on a photograph before the machine can calculate the ratios and distance to a common reference point (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2012). The technology gained recognition in 2011 when it was used to compare surveillance images to digital mug shots contained in a database. The technology has a wide array of application in the criminal justice systems. For instance, it is used to screen foreign travelers against a database of known criminals. It is also used to control illegal immigration. Some police departments use arrest mug shot database when conducting forensic investigation works. The technology has also been applied in non-law enforcement work such as in voters’ identification.

Implications for Law Enforcement Organizations

On the positive side, the facial recognition technology has been heralded due to its potential to prevent a possible criminal attack. This is because once a person’s face is scanned by the technology; the results are prompt which empowers the system’s administrator to make an informed decision on the step to take. For instance, if the system matches a person’s face with the mug shots of a wanted criminal the administrator can contact the police immediately. Additionally, facial recognition technology provides valuable information to police in a scene of a crime where criminals fail to leave fingerprint evidence, but the existing CCTV manages to capture their face. As such, the facial recognition technology will help police in arresting known criminals. The Facial recognition technology raises pertinent privacy issues. “The police use of video cameras installed with facial recognition technology to scan the faces of over 100,000 visitors in the Super Bowl June 2001 incidence outraged many people” (Brey, 2004). The privacy versus security concerns dominate the debate over the use of the facial technology. The use of the facial recognition technology raises some ethical issues as well. One such ethical issue is the possibility of mistaken identity where an innocent person’s face is matched to that of a known criminal. In case this happens, the consequences can be devastating to the victim of such a technology failure. Besides, the error may cause the police organization or private enterprise huge amount of money in compensations for damages caused. Also, the technology has proved ineffective in case of poor lighting, long hair, sunglasses, among other objects that may partially cover a suspect’s face (Thorat, et al., 2010).  According to Thorat and colleagues, the technology failed its initial test when it failed to recognize terrorists by their face at Boston’s Logan  Airport. 

Role of Law Enforcement Manager

Law enforcement managers may use the technology to improve public safety in their jurisdiction. This is by arresting criminals before they can execute their plans. Hess (2010)   argues the amount of information provided by the system concerning a crime suspect can aid law enforcement managers in the deployment of officers to manage a situation. For example, if an airport raises alarm over a person in a terrorists database, a police manager can understand the right unit to deploy to contain the situation. This can also help law enforcement managers avoid disrupting public order by matching the form of response to a criminal’s previous crimes. For instance, it would be uncalled for if a SWOT team is deployed to arrest a person skipped his court hearings when he was charged with drunk driving.

Potential Benefit to the Public

The major potential benefit the facial recognition technology has to the public is crime prevention. If public facilities such as beaches, restaurants, sports arena, movie theaters, and airports have installed the technology, potential criminals such as known terrorists can be prevented from accessing these areas. In so doing, a major disaster may be averted with the use of facial recognition technology.

In conclusion, there is an array of emerging technologies that have proved important in law enforcement. One such current technology is the police body cameras that are promising to curb police misconduct, increase police accountability, and improve the quality of evidence corrected in a scene of crime. However, the cameras have received mixed reactions from the police. While some police are happy that the technology will save them in case they are wrongfully accused, others are concerned about the tedious recording work as well as the possibility of the information recorded by these devices being used against them. There are privacy concerns such as the period in which the recorded information can be stored as well as who is authorized to access it. Additionally, the cameras have proved ineffective in recording everything that transpires during a police-citizen interaction. To law enforcement managers, the technology will aid them to conduct a more fair evaluation of each police officer. On the other hand, facial recognition technology has promised to prevent certain crime by alerting the police in case a known criminal is captured by the systems. Similar to the police body cameras, the facial recognition technology raises crucial privacy and ethical issues. Besides, the technology has proved ineffective in case a potential criminal alters their facial expression such as by wearing sunglasses. To a law enforcement manager, the Facial recognition technology will help them when deploying police officers to control a situation depending on the amount of information available about a potential criminal. To the public, the technology can avert a possible tragedy by alerting the authorities of the presence of a known criminal in the public space. 

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