An unstoppable juggernaut, technology is growing by leaps and bounds. Its onward march has forced law enforcement agencies nationwide to think long and hard about what technologies they adopt, in addition to how and when.
Chief Bradley Wentlandt, with the Greenfield, Wis., Police Department, stated, for many years law enforcement agencies have gone about acquiring new technologies like any other new piece of equipment on five-to-10-year basis; however, with the rate of advancement, “we’ve really had to look at them in real time.”
He added, “We try to be responsive and agile in getting technology into the hands of officers so they can do their job better.” Due to this approach, plus the increase in subscription and cloud-based technologies, he noted, when it comes to budgeting, departments are moving away from the capital fund and drawing from the operations fund.
And really there is a smorgasbord of technologies available for agencies to choose from. While there have been challenges to bringing them on board, many departments are finding the benefits often outweigh the bumps along the way.
High-tech tools of the trade
Chief Rick Scarbrough, with the Clinton, Tenn., Police Department, said, “GPS has proven to be a tremendous tool for public safety. Departments are capable of linking patrol units with supervisors and dispatchers through the installation of GPS systems. Supervisors may view mobile data terminals to monitor location of patrol units. This knowledge allows for proper deployment of resources. Dispatchers use GPS-provided locations in their computer-aided dispatching software.”
He added following E911 calls, GPS enables them to find the original location of the call. “This is useful when a victim is in need of assistance, but may not be able to provide their location. Also, GPS may be used to locate a missing person who is in possession of a functional cellphone.”
On a national level, of course, the big talking point is squad car video and bodyworn cameras. Scarbrough explained both car video and body-worn cameras are being used for the collection of evidence; however, perspective of use is where the two technologies differentiate. “In-car is designed to capture activity in and around the vehicle while body-worn cameras are designed to capture evidence from a single officer’s point of view.”
He noted, “Law enforcement leaders in many agencies have elected to forgo in-car video for the less expensive option of body worn. However, if evidence collection is the goal, in-car video is clearly the choice to make. In-car video can provide 180 degree field of view of an entire traffic stop; whereas, body-worn cameras only provide 180 degree view from where the officer is facing.”
Another thought that should be considered is the trigger or powering of the two options. Options exist with in-car cameras that allow them to be “triggered” on when emergency signals or lights are activated, or when the vehicle reaches pre-determined speeds, such as 65 mph.
“Body-worn cameras must be manually activated. During stressful situations, an officer may mistakenly fail to activate a body-worn camera,” Scarbrough said. “If the mistake were to occur during an incident that required review or scrutiny, it would create a perception that the department was covering up improper behavior or withholding evidence.”
He stated for departments with bodyworn cameras, it is important to allow the officer to review the video if necessary to complete the report for the sake of accuracy. “It should be the goal of each agency to provide an accurate report and by allowing an officer to review the video aids in doing so.
It is scientifically supported that officers suffer from some memory loss following traumatic incidents.”
On the subject, Wentlandt said, “We’ve taken a cautious approach (toward body cameras). When technology emerges, there are always those jump on board — but technology changes fast and there are always updates and improvements. We want it to mature.” He added, “We are reaching the point where we’re ready to go.”
Another concern that has kept Greenfield from jumping has included what to do with all the footage obtained by the cameras. “We’d need a full-time employee or more to remove or redact (footage) for release.” Wentlandt noted sometimes innocent or uninvolved parties might be within the frame, or protected speech might be heard. “It’s time consuming. It can only be done with the touch of human hands.”
He added license plate readers have been another game changer; however, they, too, come with civil liberty concerns, particularly when it comes to proper storage.
For addressing those storage concerns, Wentlandt said, “We are part of a consortium of about 20 agencies, and we are hosting the service at out department.” In times past, he noted storage has been expensive; however, “storage is very cheap now.”
Similar to centralized data storage, he stated many agencies are coming together on computer-aided dispatch systems and 911, making them centralized as well since there is no real reason to have them separated anymore. “The greatest challenge is bandwidth.”
Connectivity is important, whether it is with a cellular or Wi-Fi provider, especially with all the technology in squad cars — however, there are challenges. Bandwidth is often shared between public safety agencies and the public. Wentlandt noted there is a new initiative, FirstNet, which will ensure the building, deployment and operation of a nationwide public safety broadband network.
“Right now most agencies are using commercial networks,” he said. “If this (FirstNet) comes to fruition, it will create a segregated bandwidth just for public safety.”
Currently, FirstNet is just getting off the ground and is in the process of having consultations with federal, state, tribal and local public safety entities. Wentlandt noted Wisconsin had its consultation, and it would ultimately be up to the governor as to whether or not the state participates. However, he sees many benefits for having a protected and segregated public safety network, especially during major sporting events or in the event of a mass casualty incident that would have a lot of people on devices competing for bandwidth.
Bandwidth will also play an important role with the increase of cloud-based and subscription-based services states and departments are signing up for, in addition to the consortium they are putting together.
Public safety services
Many law enforcement agencies and states are banding together and utilizing public safety services as well. One such public service, VINE, or Victim Information and Notification Everyday, came about after the 1993 murder of Mary Byron in Jefferson County, Ky., at the hands of her former boyfriend who was released from prison without her being notified. Th e service — unveiled by Appriss in Louisville and Jefferson County a year after Byron’s death — provides automatic notification to a victim when an inmate is released. Th e service is connected to jail management and the department of corrections, providing close to real-time notifications.
“They can sign up for free,” Aaron Davis, marketing analyst with Appriss, said in regards to victims. “It allows them to take whatever precautions they need to in order to be safe.” While the service greatly benefits victims, law enforcement agencies are also aided by it since it eliminates the need to manually notify victims — particularly for departments who might not have the resources to do so — and allows agencies’ staff to focus on their core responsibilities.
Appriss’ nationwide JusticeXchange is service directly for law enforcement agencies. “It uses real-time booking information,” said Davis, allowing agencies to “look for persons of interest who might be in other jails.” Agencies can also put out notices on persons of interest, too, so they are notified if the individual is booked by another agency. “It also provides in-depth reporting and other tools.”
Several states, including local law enforcement agencies, are also on board for CrashLogic, which tracks crash data within a state and runs analytics. “It allows states to make data-driven decisions through law enforcement and to address areas experiencing trouble,” Davis said. “It is offered for free to law enforcement.”
Another bonus, according to Davis, is it keeps data and reports uniform across a state. “We have good partnerships with a lot of states,” said Davis. “We really do try and meet customer service expectations and help them hit their goals.” He noted some of the states they have worked closely with include Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Georgia, among others.
The service is tied to BuyCrash.com, which allows community members and insurance agencies to obtain crash reports without having to drive to a department. The requester pays a small fee, which allows Appriss to provide its CrashLogic for free to law enforcement agencies. Since it is managing both CrashLogic and BuyCrash, it frees up police staff who otherwise would have handled such requests for accident reports.
NPLEx, or the National Precursor Log Exchange — another Appriss service — has been of help to narcotic officers combatting methamphetamine use. “We provide (NPLEx) to thousands and thousands of pharmacies nationwide,” Davis said, noting it provides real-time electronic logging systems used by pharmacies and law enforcement agencies to track sales of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications that contain precursors.
“Those purchases get tracked by us and flow through our database, providing a history to law enforcement,” he said. “Narcotic agents use the data to bust methamphetamine makers. With the data, sometimes they’ve been able to watch and see a purchase history going on, and then intercept people coming home — as they’re on the way to go home to make meth. It’s been super valuable to narcotic officers.”
The state of Kentucky is getting ahead of the game after working with Appriss and Homeland Security on a new e-warrant system. “It’s been a real solution for them,” said Davis.
“It’s increased their ability to serve warrants in a timely manner and decrease their backlog.”
According to Appriss’ website, prior to the new system a 2005 study of the Kentucky court system found 365,000 to 385,000 unserved warrants across the state. The average length of time to serve a warrant? Six hundred seventy- four days. Since the eWarrants launched, approximately 1.68 million records have been submitted. The average number of records authorized per day is 1,010 with the average number of warrants being served per day placed at 913. Within one week, 40 percent of all warrants have been served; 50 percent are served within 24 hours and 15 percent are served within one hour.
The program also allows law enforcement officers to log the number of service attempts, additional locations where the individual may be found and any cautionary notes about an individual who may be dangerous. Due to its link with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, firearm regulations are being upheld at higher rates since disqualifiers are being set for individuals with active warrants immediately upon authorization.
“E-warrants has been a phenomenal help to them (Kentucky),” Davis said.
Many other unique services also exist for law enforcement, placing the odds in favor of agencies being able to find a solution that works best for their department.
Finger to a community’s pulse
“From a community standpoint, a vast majority (of agencies) have embraced or are embracing social media,” said Wentlandt, noting when the technology first emerged, many thought it was a fad but have since welcomed it. “It allows departments to connect at a grass roots level with constituents.”
In Greenfield’s situation, as a city in a metro area, social media has allowed the department to get out a lot of positive things they do in addition to information about crimes in the community — things that might never have made it into the metro news cycles. “Social media allows departments to organically get information out.” He added that with it, information can be targeted toward the audience trying to be reached and also allows for rapid dispersal of that information. “Then there is also the intelligence gathering aspect of social media.”
Numerous times social media has proven beneficial for investigative purposes. One example occurred in October when a police officer used emerging social media platform Periscope to locate a woman in Florida who was driving under the influence and live streaming it. Once her location was ascertained via the footage, officers pulled her over, potentially saving lives including her own.
“I’ll be the first to admit that social media may not be effective in all communities,” Scarbrough said. “However, it has become today’s accepted most popular form of communicating. If developing relationships with your citizens is important, then allow social media to make those introductions.”
He added, “There are many options to choose from. For example, Facebook is the choice we have made, but I will probably also begin using Twitter soon.”
On the horizon
As for stock tips on what it is to come, Wentlandt said, “Unmanned aerial vehicles.” He added he doesn’t like calling them drones; however, he does like the possibilities offered by them: such as fixing an infrared camera onto a UAV and being able to go over woods. “It would put police dogs out of a job,” he said.
UAVs have the ability to cover a wide area with very little manpower needed and at a low cost. It’s perfect for search and rescue, suspect searches — such as a suspect fleeing a hit and run accident — and narcotic officers. “It’s every search and rescue officer’s dream,” he added. “What would have taken a helicopter and crew can now be done out of a trunk with an operator and observer.”
While IACP’s conference is now past, at the time of being interviewed, Wentlandt stated he expected to see an increase in UAV vendors at the event. And while the rise of UAVs opens several possibilities, like license plate readers and cloud-based services, it also raises civil liberties concerns.
“Law enforcement has long been the secret keepers of the community,” he said. “We often see people at their most vulnerable.” He remains optimistic that longstanding tradition will continue, even with advancing UAV technology.
And with the Federal Aviation Administration’s interim ruling on UAVs, allowing law enforcement agencies to use them for suspect searches and search and rescue missions, several agencies are already applying to bring them on board.
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