A Closer Look at Police Technology

by Elizabeth Hall
When we think of law enforcement officers of decades ago what readily comes to mind are the sheriffs of the Old West armed with a badge, a gun, and a deputy if he was lucky notes Foster (2000).  In modern policing there are sophisticated pieces of equipment developed by modern science and 
English: Mounted law enforcement
English: Mounted law enforcement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
technology such as computers, software designed for specific functions to aid in investigation, radar, breathalyzers, thermal imaging systems, digital cameras, crime mapping tools and even our own cell phones and devices to investigate, obtain warrants, and convict criminals. With these advances in technology there are distinct advantages to an investigation, however there are also distinct disadvantages, as criminals have access to some of these tools as well (Knetzger, M. & Muraski, 2008).  In this paper we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of computers and software has on law enforcement, along with some examples of how technology has been utilized both for and against law enforcement investigations. 
Advantages of Computers and Software in Investigation
Foster (2000) holds that during the Community Policing Era law enforcement technology turned to computers to aid in the new style of policing America.  These technologies added tools such as 
Seal of the National Crime Information Center ...
Seal of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), USA. — “Servicing Our Citizens” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), Enhanced 911 systems, and even the Automated Fingerprint Identity System are some of the real tools that law enforcement have at their disposal.  Schultz (2008) also lists technological tools that have enabled law enforcement to have information and databases at their disposal even when in their cars, and those that replace officers altogether such as cameras that record graffiti and vandalism, and photo enforcement systems which allow for crimes to be reported automatically in cases of vandalism or traffic violations, which the agency can then send out a traffic ticket complete with photo of car as proof or feed the data about the vandalism complete with photos in the their computers to aid in the investigation and apprehension of the vandals.  Thermal imaging cameras allow officers to monitor for suspects, number of people in the building, detect possible narcotics growing operations, and gather other data from afar gaining them the advantage of surprise when it is time to apprehend the criminals (Schultz, 2008). All of these tools allow for faster, safer law enforcement intervention into criminal investigation by shaving time off of individual evidence identification, suspect identification, dispatch of personnel, and validity of evidence in the courtroom by providing allowable visual evidence, or by allowing law enforcement to gain knowledge without detection by the criminals.    
Disadvantages of Computers and Software on Law Enforcement
While there are advantages to law enforcement with the advancement of technological tools, there are also disadvantages, as criminals have access to computers and software as well (Knetzger, M. & Muraski, 2008). What makes it particularly disadvantageous to law enforcement is that by the nature of the internet and global accessibility these crimes are not impossible, but very difficult to trace.  Often crimes are committed from another country and prosecution requires multiple country cooperation to investigate and prosecute criminals.  Another difficulty is funding, as technology is always updating, and law enforcement budgeting may not allow for the rapid replacement of equipment, particularly in smaller agencies. What makes it particularly disadvantageous to law enforcement is that by the nature of the internet and global accessibility these crimes are not impossible, but very difficult to trace. With the technological advances of the computer and the ease of use of the internet, transnational and national criminals take advantage of these tools every day (Knetzger, M. & Muraski, 2008). 
Ways to Utilize Technology to Commit a Crime
Criminals can use computers and cell phones to commit fraud, identity theft, scams, hacking, stalking, bullying, harassment, child pornography violations, child enticement, narcotics distribution and manufacture, cell phone fraud, terrorism and even last but certainly not least, organized crime (Knetzger, M. & Muraski, 2008).   Deirmenjian (2002) speaks of the ease which pedophiles can trade, sell or buy photos, belong to private forums, groups and chat rooms, and generally indulge in their fantasies.  A simple thing as email can be used in the commission of cyberstalking, harassment, or even to used to threaten someone, along with scams designed to gain personal information or funds from a person by proclaiming they won the lottery, are due an inheritance, have governmental oversight funds to disburse, or a sick relative, which are known as advance fee scams.  Identity fraud is also connected with this as some of them ask you for personal information which can then be sold or utilized later.  Organized crime groups can sell stolen merchandise, narcotics, monitor their gambling and loan sharking operations, and even recruit members over the internet (Knetzger, M. & Muraski, 2008).  
Case Example of Criminal Enterprise with Computers
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (2012) reports that a large ring of Tech Support Scams was discovered originating out of India which they are launching a major offensive and have succeeded in locking the assets of at least six enterprises.  The criminals use phones and computers to commit the crimes by posing as legitimate telemarketers from major companies, talking unsuspecting victims into believing that their computer needs to be rid of spy and malware.  The victims would then
English: Washington, D.C. headquarters of the ...
English: Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Federal Trade Commission. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 pay fees to the fake company representatives to allow them to then remotely access their computers and “fix” the problem.  With fees ranging from $49 to $450 per fix, they would direct the consumer to a software download allowing them to remotely download useless or free programs to the consumer machine (FTC, 2012).   
Case Example of Computers Aiding in Solving Crimes
Deirmenjian (2002) cites several cases where pedophiles were arrested and their own computers were not only utilized in the criminal activity, but also aided in the investigation of the crimes.  For example, a thirty eight year old male pedophile was caught trying to set up a meeting with a 13 year old girl, which turned out to be an officer posing as that minor.  He was caught when he turned up for the meeting.  Another case was that of a murderer out on parole who thought he was communicating with a mother who would allow him to sexually assault her teenage daughters.  Imagine his surprise when he landed back in jail for that one due to the anonymity of the internet, and his inability to control his impulses.
Technological advances in society have had both positive and negative effects on law enforcement in this country, although there have been huge strides in the positive effects (Foster, 2002).  Even though the commissions of some crimes are aided by the use of software, computers, and the internet, often these same tools can aid in the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of crime.  The benefits of information sharing between our law enforcement agencies through databases like AFIS and CODIS, the fingerprint and DNA databases, crime and criminal information such as that found on NCIC, and advances in technology such as vandalism systems and photo enforcement systems save our officers time and keep them engaged and in action at the same time by making information available to them in their cars at their fingertips instead of in a records room sorting through fingerprint cards.  This far outweighs the disadvantages the criminals pose.
Deirmenjian, J.M. MD, (2002).  Pedophilia on the Internet.  Journal of Forensic Science, Sept 2002.  Vol 47, № 5.  Retrieved From: http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Pedophilia_on_the_Internet.pdf
Federal Trade Commission, (FTC), (2012).  FTC Halts Massive Tech Support Scams.  Retrieved From: http://ftc.gov/opa/2012/10/pecon.shtm
Foster, R.E. (2000). Police Technology. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall
Knetzger, M. & Muraski, (2008).  Investigating High-Tech Crime.  New Jersey Prentice Hall, Pearson Education.  ISBN:  0-536-08577-3
Schultz, P.D., (2008).  The Future is Here: Technology in Police Departments.  The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 6, June 2008.  Retrieved From: http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?article_id=1527&fuseaction=display&issue_id=62008

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