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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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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.

How Technology is Changing Law Enforcement

The latest high-tech innovations offer benefits and challenges for crime fighters.

December 08, 2015  |  by Patrick J. Solar

When I started my career in law enforcement nearly 35 years ago, the only "technology" we needed was the police radio and the location of the nearest pay phone. Today police radios scan 30 channels and officers typically have in-car video cameras, traffic monitoring radar units, in-car computer data terminals with Internet access, body cameras, a department-issued cellphones and, of course, personal cellphones. With all this technology in the cruisers it’s a wonder we don't have more officer-involved crashes than we do.

Advances in technology have been a mixed blessing for contemporary law enforcement agencies. Take the explosive spread of Internet access over the last two decades, for example. On one hand, everyday technologies like social media and other applications are a boon to law enforcement but they have also made it possible for gangs and even terrorist organizations to coordinate like never before, creating an entirely new digital space that needs policing.

Social media is far from the only technology that’s drawn concern from police. Many in the law enforcement community have particularly cited a mobile app called Waze, a traffic-tracking tool that displays the current location of police officers, as potentially allowing those with criminal intent to avoid or seek out and harm law enforcement personnel.

While this certainly complicates the work of keeping the public safe, criminals using the Internet, whatever they use it for, often leave a trail behind. With the proper knowledge and tools on their side, law enforcement technicians can use this expansive channel of communication against potential or suspected criminal offenders. The Internet has become a broad web of shared personal information that remains permissible as evidence when attained legally, creating an organic database of recorded behaviors that can provide unique insight into each case. When analyzed, this data can even be useful in identifying criminal patterns and anticipating threats.

Police are being tasked with increasingly complicated challenges as the state of technology evolves, but today’s most effective agencies aren’t exactly lacking in technical muscle. The same rapid expansion of technology forcing quick adaptation on the part of police has set the stage for exciting, innovative tools that help officers serve their communities.

Law enforcement agencies around the country have recognized the value of these tools, using them to meet the shifting demands of police work. Some are still relatively untested, others are controversial, but each new armament in the fight against crime has the potential to radically alter the way law enforcement operates.

3D Crime Scene Imaging

The methods that analysts use to dissect every facet of a crime scene have fascinated the public in recent years, which is understandable with how far the field has come. 3D scanning technology, like some of the solutions offered by Faro, certainly seems like something straight out of science fiction. These devices take a three-dimensional scan of an entire crime scene, replacing many sketches and photographs..

Through-the-Wall Radar

The emergence of new radar technology that uses radio waves to detect movement through walls caused quite a stir when it was brought to public attention several months ago. The controversy is understandable, as concern over privacy rights continues to rise, and the technology does pose some difficult questions relative to the Fourth Amendment. However, this technology isn’t actually new, and has been used by nearly 50 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. to mitigate the dangers of entering buildings that house criminal activity. Using the L-3 CyTerra Range-R, which is sensitive enough to measure even the slightest movement, officers can gain a complete picture of what threats they’ll face, which is critical information to the success and safety of a breach.

Body-Worn Cameras

The national call for officers to wear cameras has been heard loud and clear by many police agencies. Recently, the city of Detroit announced that all police officers would soon be outfitted with body cameras, and numerous others agencies have done the same. These cameras, which are now small enough to be mounted on an officer’s uniform or on a pair of glasses do far more than just promote public trust and accountability in the age of viral videos and demands for transparency. Though some members of the law enforcement community have raised concerns over the use of the cameras, they can actually provide a helpful resource to police departments and protect officers from an increasing abundance of false claims of inappropriate behavior or abuse.

Every second of video that an officer’s camera records can be taken into evidence, providing a first-hand account of what took place during any interaction with a subject. The cameras provide the officer’s perspective on the incident unfettered by testimony and witness reports. Beyond that, departments can use the footage to train and practice crisis scenarios, reviewing successful arrests and discovering areas for improvement. Community members and law enforcement officers alike can benefit from police cameras seeing more frequent use.

Predictive Analytics

Criminal elements may have gained a powerful tool in the Internet, but so have law enforcement agencies, with more data available than ever before. Using software dedicated to providing insight into criminal patterns and all legally warranted personal information, analysts are able to recognize connections between various activities and cases, even potentially predict where the next threat will emerge. These systems draw from a number of databases simultaneously, which helps law enforcement analyze information coming from mobile telephone service providers, banks, credit card companies, and many other public forms of data. Once all of the relevant information is gathered, new tools like these allow agencies to share their findings with others around the nation.

Patrick J. Solar, Ph.D. has been a police officer for nearly 30 years serving as a street officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, and chief. He is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Donna Redden @ 12/8/2015 10:36 AM

I'm very pleased with today's technology and glad to hear all departments use it. If the criminals and yuppies want to complain about the 4th then let them call the crackhead on the corner. The universities need to catch up and educate more people to help combat the Internet of the modern day crime.

Tyler Wood @ 12/10/2015 9:07 PM

Great summary of law enforcement technology. Predictive policing combined with temporal and spatial crime mapping and social network analysis... those are today's crime analyst tools. Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring.
Doug Wood

Paul @ 12/15/2015 6:49 AM

I think technology is one way to improve policing but looking at your country l got the impression that to many of your police officers had served in the military and saw much violence and death. This experience could and probably would give you a more harder tone on your policing which could be a bad thing for safely policing the community.
I think more of a detailed assessment, that would not necessarily think, having a background in the military is a good thing or not, depending on the persons experiences and attitudes from their military service.
I think this is a huge factor in police using deadly force on the public and should be at least considered as an alternative view.
Regards Paul

Bob @ 3/19/2016 9:53 PM

Boohoo... I have yet to read the cause of an officers death or injury being linked to Waze. Waze just levels the playing field when the public has to deal with unmarked police cars, citation quotas, and officers who have had a bad day and want to take it out on someone. In fact, police should praise Waze for helping to proactively control traffic for them.

Cops have more technology then ever at their disposal yet fail to realize the public is going to use that same tech to watch them as well.

When video of cops turning off their body cameras and mics hits the internet so they can release a fellow cops who was busted on a DUI, things have to change.

An ap which tells the public where a cop is hanging out waiting to give out tickets should be the least of anyone's concern. But most cops are just meatheads who don't understand most of the tech at their fingertips, unless its their gun.

Johnny Lynn @ 4/3/2016 9:30 AM

I have a new tool for safety. Check it out at
Thanks for checking it out.

Lucy @ 6/7/2016 12:43 PM

I saw an interesting video about this with Professor Bennett Capers who discussed the future of police technology as well as the legal benefits and limits of the technology

James T Kirk @ 3/23/2017 1:53 PM

Whoa. Pretty interesting stuff.

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