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Brian Cain is a sergeant with the Holly Springs (Ga.) Police Department, and is known as the "Millennial cop" on Twitter. He has been in law enforcement since 2000. He hosts and produces a podcast for Millennials in law enforcement.

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Doug Wyllie

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Michael Bostic

Michael Bostic

Mike Bostic, of Raytheon Corp.'s Civil Communication Solutions group, specializes in open architecture, systems integration of communications and data programs. Mike spent 34 years with the LAPD. He managed IT and facility development, as well as the SWAT Board of Inquiry, which developed new command-and-control systems.

GPS in Police Vehicles: Officer Safety or Big Brother Watching?

Several police unions have expressed concern about superior officers tracking an officer's every move.

October 08, 2010  |  by Robert Sisley - Also by this author

GPS client software such as this example from TrackStar AVLS displays the location and status of an agency's law enforcement vehicles on a map display. Image via TrackStar.

Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking has been used in the law enforcement field for a long time. It was first most commonly used to track bad guys, but has since been installed in police vehicles to aid in dispatching and for officer safety monitoring.

GPS is currently being used by computer-aided dispatch (CAD) programs to recommend the closest unit when dispatching a call. Officers can also view their own location on their vehicle computer and help map out the fastest route to a call.

GPS is usually part of an on-board computer system mounted in a police vehicle, but can be a stand-alone unit. When an officer has an emergency, GPS can provide the vehicle's location, but this doesn't help if the officer isn't near the vehicle. To assist in this, GPS modules are also being included in newer models of hand-held radios and shoulder microphones.

The advantages of GPS are obvious, but several police unions have expressed a concern that GPS units could be used in Big Brother-style tactics by superior officers who will be able to track the officer's every move. Not only can GPS determine where the officer is, or isn't, but it can also determine the speed of the vehicle. Remember the time, distance, speed formula we learned in radar school?

Some agencies and unions have agreed that GPS results will not be used against officers unless a complaint has been made, but other agencies have purchased computer software that will monitor an officer's speed and print out a report. Alerts can also send out if the vehicle's speed exceeds a predetermined maximum.

I've spoken with numerous officers from several agencies. Some don't like it, but many have said that it's like having an in-car video camera installed. If you know it's there, why would you do something you're not supposed to do?

Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

garydaranger @ 10/11/2010 6:04 PM

As a CA State Park Peace Officer, we are often in the back country where there are no roads and current software does not support some of those areas. However, I still have a personal GPS in my patrol vehicle which can give me data such as: Street address location, nearest hospital, cross streets and a latitude/longitude position which is good for SAR efforts.

When out of the vehicle, I also carry a handheld GPS in my cargo pocket. I have used it to map out marijuana fields in our park, search and rescue coordinates, map out illegal trails and homeless campsites to be used in court. Your track can be downloaded into Google Earth and printed out to be used as evidence during trail as well. GPS is a great tool for law enforcement if you know how to use it. As a Big Brother Tool, it should not be used against us! Stay Safe!

mxepr @ 10/12/2010 7:28 AM

I don't worry about gps because i do the right thing all the time.

Starrman69 @ 10/12/2010 11:26 AM

I always conducted myself as if I was filmed for 9 hours a day. The MVR has cleared many officers of wrongful allegations. You're on the clock and should be doing the job. All it has to do is save/find one officer that needs help and it pays for itself.

Al Perez @ 6/8/2014 6:17 PM

Look on the bright side of things. If you're ever accused of doing something or told you were not where you said you were, this is a great tool to back you up. I also agree with the previous, if you're doing your job who cares. I work with surveillance cameras on me 24/7 and not think about its existence.

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