Troopers and Tech: The Relationship Between Policing and Technology

Illustration of a police officer with icons for justice, surveillance cameras and other technologies in the background.

Just as average citizens use technological innovations as part of their daily routines, many law enforcement agencies are adopting new technology, as well. From social media to on-the-go cameras, these technological advancements are changing not only the way we interact with one another, but also how police departments conduct their daily business.

Policing and Technology

Here’s a look at some new pieces of technology and how law enforcement agencies are utilizing them.

Social Media

Social media networks are primarily used by the public to communicate and share news or personal moments with others. Law enforcement agencies use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat for conducting police work. A nation-wide survey of police department use of social media from the Urban Institute found that 91 percent of departments use social media platforms to notify the public of safety concerns. A separate survey by Lexis Nexis of social media use within law enforcement found that 86 percent of agencies are “actively using social media” for investigations. By uploading videos and pictures, law enforcement can spark shares and post interactions that can help solve a crime and increase community awareness.

Social media also has opened a door for law enforcement agencies to develop a closer relationship with the citizens they protect. The same Urban Institute survey found 89 percent of respondents use social media for community outreach.

K-9 Cameras

With the growing popularity of action cameras — GoPro said it has sold more than 30 million products since 2009 — law enforcement agencies are equipping K-9 units with these cameras to transmit live video back to K-9 officers, according to the Associated Press. They are being used to survey a difficult scene, such as a hostage situation, which could help police determine the correct tactical approach or help with negotiation and de-escalation. Some of the higher-end K-9 cameras include thermal imaging, two-way audio and recording ability.

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Gunfire Locater

Gunshot detection systems, like ShotSpotter, use audio sensors placed within a city to triangulate the location of a gunshot and provide law enforcement agencies with a near-exact location of the incident. This is especially beneficial if the shots don’t result in 911 calls from citizens. An isolated study published by the Brookings Institution found that, on average, only 12 percent of gunfire incidents result in a 911 call. This is often because many citizens can’t tell the difference between gunfire and another loud noise, such as fireworks. However, systems like ShotSpotter can tell the difference and allows law enforcement agencies to better monitor gunshots to solve a greater number of crimes.

Crime Mapping

In the past, police investigators used pins on maps to display the sites of crimes to find patterns. Now, police departments use crime mapping computer software to track the location and types of crimes in a geographic area over a set period of time, according to the Institute of Public Safety. These locations, also known as hot spots, enable crime analysts to focus and adjust police resources to target specific areas. Analyzing and understanding hot spots, especially with the use of 3-D mapping, could help investigators solve cases, and by concentrating a larger police presence in the area, new crimes could be prevented from occurring, as well.

Crime mapping also can be used to reduce traffic accidents, manage public rallies and parades and even reduce homelessness.

Drones

For the general population, drones are used to capture amazing aerial views from unique vantage points. Also looking to gain unique vantage points, some police departments are using drone technology for reconnaissance and tracking suspects, according to an article in PoliceOne. Drones allow officers to maintain a safe distance while still monitoring the situation. They also have used drones to recreate traffic collisions and analyze crime scenes, according to Dronefly.

Because of their benefits to investigation, many law enforcement agencies are now purchasing drones of their own. As of May 2018, the Center for the Study of the Drone reported that about 900 state and local public safety agencies across the U.S. use drones in their day-to-day operations, which represents an increase of 82 percent year-over-year.

Hand-held Translator

In many communities, the diverse population presents a problem for law enforcement: How do they communicate with a person in their preferred language? Hand-held translators are often used by the general public while traveling or on vacation. Law enforcement, however, uses this same tech to assist with investigations. One device, produced by Minnesota-based firm RTT Mobile, connects police officers with interpreters who can translate more than 180 languages, according to NPR. These devices are usually the size of a 1990s-era cell phone, but it is likely officers in the future will be able to use a digital translator app instead.

DNA Phenotyping

Recently, a new breakthrough in DNA analysis technology has helped solve some of the nation’s coldest cases, per the Smithsonian Magazine. With DNA phenotyping, the prediction of appearance traits in an individual’s DNA, detectives no longer need to compare a DNA sample with one already entered into a database. Instead, they can produce a nearly realistic image of an individual from just one drop of blood or a bone fragment.

Policing and Technology

What started as technology advancement for entertainment and recreation purposes has also led to many policing and technology innovations. Research by RTI international has shown that 96 percent of local and state law enforcement agencies are highly-invested in new technology. In addition, usage of the aforementioned technology is expected to grow in law enforcement agencies across the nation.

If you want to be a part of the next technological revolution in law enforcement, then enroll today in Point Park University’s online bachelor’s in criminal justice. Our flexible format means you can earn your degree in as little as two years and on your own time. In our program, you’ll learn about policing, criminal investigations and how technology is impacting the industry.