Professional policing got its start with the Metropolitan Police Services in London in 1829. London’s population was experiencing rapid growth and government officials decided something needed to be done to maintain order. Home Secretary Robert Peel was instrumental in the creation of this police force and British officers were nicknamed “bobbies” in Peel’s honor.
From the beginning, technology was an integral part; British developing fingerprint collection and analysis techniques in the 1880s. The information revolution has helped make technology an increasingly important part of police work for today’s departments. Here are 15 cool pieces of police tech that prove crime doesn’t pay.
15. Heat Vision
The somewhat haunting images we’ve seen on television and the internet help police departments all over the world catch criminals and rescue innocents. Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) uses a thermographic camera to “see” infrared or thermal radiation.
The resulting imagery reveals the warmth of a body or other heat source in contrast to the cooler background. A FLIR camera mounted on a Massachusetts State Police helicopter was famously used in 2013 to verify that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, was hiding in a boat under a tarp.
14. Push to Talk
The first two-way radio system used by police was developed in Australia in 1923. A constable with the Victoria Police Department set up radios in the department’s cars. This was a revolutionary innovation that would course become standard practice in nearly every police department around the world.
The Bayonne, New Jersey Police Department in 1933 became the first American department to deploy mobile two-way radios. The car radios greatly increased efficiency, but police officers are frequently away from their cars for extended periods.
Hand-held two way radios or walkie-talkies allow officers to stay in contact with dispatch and fellow officers no matter their location.
13. Practical Reality
Effective training methods have been the subject of ongoing debate for police departments. Training is expensive so budget realities can directly impact the readiness of police officers. Technology is helping to change this with virtual reality (VR) simulators.
Departments use different systems depending on their specific needs, but the general set-up is similar: multiple screens, overhead projectors and life-size videos combine to provide realistic training scenarios that can be easily repeated. Training can never fully prepare officers to deal with every situation they might encounter, but VR can be a cost effective way to make them better prepared.
12. Smile, You’re on Camera
Increased scrutiny of the police over the last several years has increased interest in wearable cameras for officers. These body cameras can be mounted on glasses or uniforms and can record what the officer is seeing and hearing. Many believe this point of view (POV) footage will increase accountability and transparency for officers.
Like with other forms of technology, using these cameras has trade-offs. Although the cameras aren’t very expensive, it can be costly to store all the footage. Money aside, some people argue that constant recording of officers doing their job constrains how they can interact with people by potentially placing every word and action they take under a microscope for review.
11. Mini Eyes in the Sky
The U.S. military has been using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones for almost for more than 50 with increasing success. The heavily armed Predators and Reapers deployed in the Global War on Terror are many times more sophisticated than their relatively primitive Vietnam War-era counterparts.
Since then, unmanned weapon systems have become a deadly fact of life on the battlefield. Police departments have more modest ambitions as they move to integrate small UAVs into law enforcement operations.
Jurisdictions wrestle with the pros and cons of using drones as privacy concerns can be a real issue. Drones could be used to spy on innocent people. For now at least, most departments intend to use the technology to assist with search and rescue operations, monitor large crowds and surveil barricaded suspects.
1o. The IT Police
Police officers have traditionally completed reports, notes and sketches with pencil and paper. This is changing with the introduction of smarts phones and tablets. Now some police departments are choosing to become paperless. This trend got a boost when forensics professionals grew frustrated with the logistical headaches of processing crime scenes.
The result was an application called CrimePad. The program catalogues, organizes and records all the information collected at a crime scene so the investigators can focus on the big picture instead of filling out mounds of paperwork.
There are also several translation apps that allow officers to communicate with people in wide range of languages including Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic and Korean. Effective communication tools at their finger tips will make officers’ job a little easier.
9. Tasers on Stun!
Stun guns also referred to as conducted electrical weapons (CEW) are a less than lethal option for police. They are often used to control a combative suspect who fails to comply with commands.
The Taser brand is popular with law enforcement agencies and military units. Stun guns fire tiny electrodes into a suspect that deliver an electric current which causes pain and over stimulation of the nervous system.
The suspect suffers intense involuntary muscle contractions that temporarily incapacitate him so he can be safely placed in custody. Although they are designed to stun, not kill, people can and occasionally do die after being stunned. Police officers must be thoroughly trained on how and when to use these weapons.
8. Gunshot Detectors
This innocuous looking piece of technology can be installed on an ordinary streetlight, but don’t let this small package fool you. These little boxes are highly sensitive speakers that when deployed in clusters uses an algorithm that can distinguish the sound of a gunshot from ambient city noise and record the approximate location.
The system is often used in high crime neighborhoods and vulnerable location like a downtown or a sports arena. When a possible gunshot is recorded the information is transmitted to a central monitoring center where experts review the data and make a determination.
This information can be forwarded to a police agency within a minute of the shot being fired. More than a hundred cities in the United States use the tech and this number is likely to increase quickly over the next few years.
7. License Plate Readers
You might not have noticed the compact cameras attached to police car trunks and roofs, but they are noticing you. The cameras are part of a technology called automatic license plate readers and as much as 85 per cent of police departments use them.
A reader can collect thousands of plate numbers, dates, times and locations of automobiles during a routine shift. Departments store the information in a database that is used to match vehicles with crime investigations, but can also be used for less important tasks such as tracking down expired tags.
Civil liberties organizations like the ACLU have raised privacy concerns about the collection, storage and use of the information. While there is real potential for abuse, the technology likely isn’t going away.
6. Stingray Surveillance
International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catcher is quite a mouthful so it’s no wonder law enforcement refers to the technology as Stingray. It is a device that convinces a cellphone into connecting with it as if it is a regular part of the cellular network.
Stingray is able to capture all of the target cellphone’s information including it’s location in realtime. The FBI, which has been using the technology since the mid-1990’s, emphasizes that it does not record phone calls, only metadata like location and time and therefore does not need a warrant.
Some privacy and civil liberties groups disagree and have been using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for years in order to shed light on the technology. Local police departments have also used the technology but only in a small number of extraordinary cases, according to the FBI.
5. Robo Cop
The Original 1987 RoboCop, starring Peter Weller has become a bit of science fiction cult classic. The movie explores a hyper violent and crime ridden Chicago of the near future where the police are outgunned and murderers control the streets.
Present day Chicago could use RoboCop’s help, but until cybernetic organisms are available police departments will have to make due with more mundane robots. Departments use a variety of robots for dangerous jobs like bomb disposal and surveillance of barricaded suspects.
For now, robots are filling support roles, but as the technology continues to improve there will likely be calls for machines to take a more active role in policing where officers’ lives are threatened.
4. Grin and Bare it
Since 9/11 airline passengers have become used to increased levels of security including revealing body scans. The New York Police Department is only one agency using millimeter wave technology to monitor people. It is unclear exactly under what conditions the technology is used, but its potential is clear.
A device about the size of a large camera can “see” through clothing, paper and even walls to reveal hidden weapons. The NYPD sees the technology as a way to defuse the controversy over its stop and frisk policy. However, privacy groups argue that the cameras simply exchange one privacy issue with another.
The cameras are arguably an even more insidious problem because agencies can search people without their knowledge. The reaction of privacy groups suggest this will continue to be an issue police departments will have to address going forward.
3. Darts Anyone?
Police pursuits attract a lot of viewers when they are aired on television, but they can be very dangerous for officers and innocent bystanders. More than one hundred departments are using vehicle pursuit dart technology to help them change the way pursuits are handled.
A launcher mounted on the front of a police car fires a dart that sticks to a suspect’s car. GPS technology in the dart relays the car’s location back to dispatchers. This allows officers to back off from a dangerous pursuit while still keeping track of the suspect.
According to one pilot program the darts stuck about 50 percent of the time, but this will likely improve considerably as both the technology and officer proficiency improves.
2. Tactical Cameras
SWAT teams are always looking for ways to gain an advantage on dangerous suspects. Throwable cameras can help give them a tactical edge with real time surveillance. These throwable cameras are essentially cameras with wheels that can be operated wirelessly by an officer.
They can be deployed into barricade situations to give officers a close up look at what is going on inside the location. Police dogs have traditionally been used in barricade situations to perform reconnaissance duties, but they are expensive to train and maintain.
Also, the safety of the dogs is weighed because they can be injured or killed by the suspect. The cameras are relatively inexpensive and are being made increasingly rugged so they can survive the hazards of tactical situations.
1. Franky Goes to the Academy
One of the most famous police dogs around is a chocolate Labrador named Franky. He, or more precisely, his nose became the focus of the U.S. Supreme Court case Florida v. Jardines. The case would decide whether Franky’s sniffing constituted an illegal search of a residence.
The 2013 decision decided that Franky’s behavior did indeed constitute a search as defined by the Fourth Amendment. This case reminds us how integral police dogs are to law enforcement. In an era where advanced technology increasingly rules the day some experts wonder if canine officers’ days are numbered.
Drug and bomb detection, suspect control and search and rescue are all tasks that robots are or will soon play a role. Until police robots carry weapons at least, police dogs will continue to hold the edge when it comes to intimidating a combative suspect.