POST WRITTEN BY: Daphne Holmes*
Technology helps law enforcement agencies and justice personnel stay one step ahead of criminals, furnishing new ways to detect and prevent crimes, as well as helping prosecutors convict offenders. And since emerging technology is available on both sides of justice, the cat-and-mouse game between perpetrators and police is never-ending, requiring continual adjustments from law enforcement agencies.
The good news for public safety is that crime rates have generally decreased over the past two decades, due in part to advancements in crime detection and deterrent technology. Since effective policing leans heavily on the rapid sharing of sensitive crime-related data; the recent explosion in information technology is a positive development for law enforcement agencies. Identification technology, social media, and mobile capabilities also enhance public safety, enabling justice staff to do their business more efficiently and respond to unfolding investigations in real-time.
While technology poses challenges for law enforcement agencies, which continually strive to keep up with technology-based criminal enterprises; it does more good than harm in the fight against crime. Tech advancements in law enforcement include the following capabilities, which illustrate how quickly things change alongside technology.
Law enforcement agencies are spread throughout a national criminal justice system that involves, regional, state, and local authorities, each administering their policing efforts independently. Too often in the past, lack of access to timely information prevented various agencies from coordinating their efforts adequately. Advances in the way agencies share information and use criminal identification systems have led to tighter connections between independent law enforcement organizations and universal enforcement standards across jurisdictions. Sharing information about offenders also has a positive preventative impact, helping keep guns out of the hand of dangerous criminals and barring offenders from certain types of employment.
Security and Surveillance Upgrades
Property crimes continue to decrease statistically, so security and video surveillance upgrades have improved public safety dramatically. Camera technology, for example, produces modern models with higher image quality than past versions, and the size of high-quality cameras has also diminished, allowing them to be concealed for covert surveillance. Face-recognition technology is particularly rewarding, enabling law enforcement officials to literally pick faces from crowds. In fact, the technology is so accurate as to create privacy-rights controversies among those who feel it is too intrusive.
Though it is a social trend as much as it is a technological breakthrough, social media use nonetheless furnishes law enforcement advantages for agencies that use the technology effectively. For example, criminals leave trails using social media platforms, so justice agencies turn to Facebook, Twitter and other channels for vital clues and insight into criminal behavior. The technology also enables officers to distribute information directly to concerned citizens, informing them of unfolding crimes and dangerous developments.
Social media links law enforcement directly to the public at large, so it is a great tool for spreading descriptions, videos and other information about criminals. Communicating in real-time closes the crucial gap between the point at which crimes occur and when investigations begin, enabling citizens to respond with timely information.
Crime Mapping Technology
Modern computing power speeds up data analysis and enables law enforcement to track crime trends geographically. What was once accomplished through countless man-hours pouring over data is now a matter of a few mouse clicks. Crime mapping enables agencies to zero-in on problem areas, stepping-up enforcement efforts and assisting in bringing in fugitives. Like highly sophisticated “pin-maps” highlighting crime location, mapping and geographic profiling give enforcement officers clear snapshots of crime trends.
Mobile technology furnishes an electronic trail of texts, emails, calls and GPS location information that law enforcement uses to solve cases. Smartphones are so widespread the contact information and other data they contain give officers a starting point for their investigations, which often unfold in arrests directly related to information gleaned from mobile devices and usage. Using advanced digital forensics technology, investigators find links between suspects and their crimes, which might go unnoticed without mobile connections. In addition to investigative benefits, mobile technology speeds communication between officers, agencies and citizens.
Technology will never replace solid investigative work, but modern advances assist law enforcement efforts to stay ahead of criminals. Mobile technology, social media, and rapid access to information contribute to better enforcement and prevention. And crime-mapping and video surveillance breakthroughs also increase public safety, enabling justice agencies to direct resources to where they are needed most.
Opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the Pace Criminal Justice Center or its Board of Advisors.