The Tools of Law Enforcement – Technology and its benefits

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Article by: Scott Hall
            Imagine for a moment, learning of a burglary in a jewelry store where the perpetrator heists a cool million in worth of valuables.  Imagine this happening where no camera can see the person, relatively basic security parameters are set up and the only thing stopping the perpetrator is the courage to smash in a door or window to do it.  Enter our detective after the crime, armed only with a note pad, a pen and a boat load of questions, no fingerprinting kits available, no camera’s to take crime scene photos, no data base to enter in to see or compare other similar crimes, only a map, and some string and push pins.  True “Gumshoe” style investigating took this and so much more to accomplish apprehending the suspect or person of yesterday’s era, leading to slogans such as “we always get our man” or like with Pinkerton’s “we never sleep”.  Where would our world be if our law enforcement had to rely on man power such as this to solve today’s crimes, the answer is overwhelmed with back logged cases and lots of labor hours with little or no positive results.  Aside from the benefits of better phones and devices in our homes, gumshoeing also has enjoyed some of its benefits as well.

            A very large advancement in solving some of the “who is responsible” was the discovery and application of DNA, where each individual has their own and when under scrutiny can detect with 99.99% accuracy that the blood flowing in the veins belongs to the individual in question.  Fingerprinting shows us how unique our “print” is upon items and ballistics helps us determine firearms used or ammunition involved and each of these examples are just the beginning of what technology advances have given law enforcement officials to perform their jobs with more insight and understanding and leaving little room for doubt.  In my youth, what kept us in line aside from the not wanting to go to jail part was knowing no matter how fast you ran or what car you were in, you could not outrun a radio transmission and the numbers that would ensue after that radio call; even that technology has evolved into combining a laptop into the officers vehicles capability.

            450 Gangs, 45,000 members, 50 years long and in one area, this would be a good place to use technology, of course after all it is Los Angeles, California and according to their web site, that is the stats for that one city alone.  Keeping track of which gang, what person, what crime, what area would amount to pages and pages of paperwork, lost time in researching and comparing and with the help of computers, CD’s and DVD’s those mountains of paper work are organized into a data base and allow officers to expedite information, information that may or may not make a difference in decision when approaching an individual or knowing whether or not a car is stolen long before the driver is aware they are caught.  This is one of many approaches where older problems are being more effectively addressed using a current technology and California is not alone in their adaptive thinking.

            In, “Policing America, challenges and best practices 6th edition, chapter 14” points out other examples of technology applications.  For instance, finding a stolen vehicle in Ohio may be on the horizon of becoming easier, their state police department is testing scanners that can read license plates from either moving or parked vehicles, enter that information into a database that compares it to known stolen or bad plates, the response the officer gets is a general alarm, this done in a few seconds, compared to calling it in and relaying the information back.  The benefit was that this particular police department recovered nearly 70 vehicles in about two years, impressive and well worth any funding that the state of Ohio pours into its worth.  Another example in Arizona, under current legislated actions, officers or officials can investigate profits from alleged immigrant smuggling across the 389 mile long border with Mexico, its primary offender path.  In general a fee is paid to person’s who smuggle people into the country and they may use places such as Western Union to make the cash transaction happen, so special software has been put in place, in collaboration efforts with Western Union so that amounts over a benchmark established by the agency, can be analyzed and retrieved when suspects are paid.  This gives the law an inside eye of who is doing the smuggling through and electronic path and is backed up with traditional gumshoeing (if you will) knowing what the going fee is for each person smuggled, a very good example of putting law enforcement and technology together to protect our borders and help secure our nation.

            The citizens of the world are smart, we learn from experience and when the challenge is great, minds gather and the challenge is met.  It was dark and candles were messy, the light bulb and its eventual evolvement followed, world wars break out and we start listening to communications (wire tapping), a very large building catches fire in a major metropolitan city and we reorganize our thoughts on fire safety (great Chicago fire), a man is beaten years after a peaceful man is assassinated, the city riots and laws dramatically change and reminders of peace and hope are returned (Dr. MLK and Rodney).  With any lesson or achievement of greater change, there must be a period of education before reform can ever take place, education that includes law enforcement; for example, without any “clue” what would Sherlock do with a laptop and wireless internet – in his era?  That, my dear readers is what also must be done in law enforcement and technology advances, training.  From the start of their careers to retirement, law enforcement persons must train and stay as up to date as possible in all areas, including how to operate the new technology, when to apply force, what force to apply, how to approach, what commands to give and other parameters.

            Technology has advanced the subduing part of an officers job to include items such as the taser, the rubber bullet, the flash or smoke canister as well as robots to inspect potentially explosive devices including a new interest in using drone technology for surveillance purposes, which this author thinks could be a step in the right direction, provided it is protected from the bad apples that exist in every law enforcement division and it stays within the boundaries of our given rights as citizens, such as privacy and search/seizure mandates, the fundamentals of our society.  Technology can also be a determent, such as in the most recent shooting in the Sikh temple, when the media was asked to not take video of tactical movements, this meant freedom of the press was limited and understood as a necessary step to ensure everyone’s safety, including theirs and this was handled very professionally, those officers involved need to be commended for their proper response, this tragedy will live on in history for its losses and it should also be noted for its hero’s, the citizens and the police involved.

            While all these items may seem cool, we must remember they took years to develop and the role of technology had to adapt to law enforcement, not the other way around, technology increased safety, accuracy and efficiency of law enforcement, but it did not change the methods used to obtain that information, including some traditional gumshoeing and even extending to creating scenarios where the persons of interest may be “baited” such as the electronic car to catch car thieves, I can only imagine the aftermath of the first person ever caught by that technology, the things that the person would tell while in jail, such as “yeah, this was messed up, everything was fine, then it cut off, I couldn’t get out and the cops were all over me, some of em laughing and cheering” what a thought and if this was the actual scenario, applause and grins from this author.

            In conclusion, when technology is placed in the palms of law enforcement officials, benefits unfold with ease, including the computer enhancements in the factories that make the protective gear that our officers wear and the radio’s they carry.  While the tools of the trade may seem cool, we must not forget that some, if not most took years to develop and all are necessary in combating criminal activity.  With this technology comes a new horizon that necessitates, training and continuous trial and error routines so that in the event of actual application, items such as the Sikh Temple end with minimal losses and maximum control over security.  Even now, you reading this article, technology are in motion and should you be a student of criminal justice and its related fields or a hard line gumshoe, this author applauds and appreciates the hard work involved, even in the advancements of time and technology, well done.

References and Links of Interest:
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/cmrc  Crime mapping Research Center
http://www.govtech.net Government Technology Link
http://www.nlectc.org Justice Technology Information Network
Policing America – Challenges and Best Practices, 6th (sixth) Edition, Kenneth J. Peak, ISBN 0-13-159803-1
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