While RoboCop-type solutions to law enforcement are not yet on the horizon, the Internet of Things (IoT) has a promising future in the ongoing fight against crime. Police departments across the globe are adopting new technology, including the NYPD’s testing of Google Glass and the LAPD’s trial of on-body cameras.
Law enforcement agencies are seeking ways to use technology not only to increase officer safety, but to reduce incident response times and directly interact with the public (e.g., through social media). In January 2014, the International Association of Chiefs of Police released a technology policy framework that supports responsible technology deployment and use, recognizing that some citizens will have privacy concerns.
“Privacy is kind of an illusion right now, as our constant connection to the Internet demonstrates, and the security around this technology will determine its future, with reasonable assurances that the sensors will only be used for their target purpose,” says Charles Tendell, CEO of Denver-based Azorian Cyber Security, a provider of threat intelligence and ethical hacking solutions.
Practical law enforcement use
Austin, Texas Police Department spokesperson Anna Sabana says wireless technology has a big part to play in future law enforcement. Its department already employs a wide variety of connected solutions that enhance officer safety. In-car systems include GPS used both for tracking and getting directions, on-board computers and cameras, as well as systems that can run mobile fingerprint checks, driver’s license scans, and record checks. In addition, real-time crime center monitoring at stations improves both crime detection and citizen response times.
Solutions currently being tested or considered for use at the Austin department include on-body cameras (offering real-time recording at crime scenes, with data streaming to connected devices, whether smartphones or in-car systems), license plate recognition, and a smartphone database for criminal record checks.
Azorian’s Tendell has tested some of the software for Google Glass planned for use in law enforcement and finds the technology impressive. Facial recognition tools linked to criminal databases could potentially help eliminate mistaken identity issues. Technology like this can easily identify suspects, such as registered sex offenders, Tendell says.
According to Sabana, the biggest challenges are keeping pace with technology and staying within budgets. Tech solutions can become outdated quickly, adding to costs and creating maintenance challenges.
“One key advantage of connected devices is allowing citizens to more easily participate in the law enforcement process,” says Todd Greene, founder and CEO of PubNub, a San Francisco-based provider of a global real-time network that enables companies to build, deploy, and scale connected device infrastructures and real-time applications.
“The advent of real-time networks, enabling devices to communicate instantly with each other, has made possible exciting new products (such as Guardly, a PubNub client,) that lets citizens report dangerous situations on their mobile phones in real-time and allow law enforcement to see problem ‘hot-spots’ across a crowd of people,” adds Greene.
With these networks, departments can now improve on current 911 systems.
“We can now consolidate emergency communications centers into a single cost-effective regional center that utilizes a number of applications and technologies that have originated from the growth of the Internet,” says William Metro, chairman and CEO at IXP Corporation, a national public safety and emergency response provider.
IXP has developed a managed dispatch service for 911 centers that allows integration on all platforms, whether smartphone, tablet, or PC.
“The new standard for 911, called Next Generation 911, or NG9-1-1, has been developed specifically to support the integration with the Internet, social media, and with (portable devices) and their photo, video, and messaging apps,” Metro says.
NG9-1-1 is aimed at updating the emergency services infrastructure in the United States and Canada and is currently being phased in at local, county and state levels, adds Metro.
New technology concerns
Some citizens also fear misuse of information by authorities.
“There is often an Orwellian implication about law enforcement and connected devices, specifically related to tracking suspects and finding easier ways to snoop, bug, and otherwise invade the privacy of citizens,” says Greene. “Any advances in law enforcement technology must protect people’s privacy while also allowing citizens to participate in the law enforcement process.”
While social media may be a useful tool, it can also create obstacles for law enforcement. For an example of what can go wrong, look to a recent NYPD Twitter campaign where the department asked for citizens to post photos of themselves with local police officers. Instead of the positive neighborhood policing photos they expected (although many were posted), media attention focused on the negative aspects. Some Twitter users publicly posted comments and photos relating to alleged police misconduct instead, backfiring on the department.
This begs the question of appropriate use of technology for law enforcement when interacting with the public. Is it possible for law enforcement and citizens to work together effectively on social channels, considering the potential drawbacks? Perhaps NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton is correct in welcoming feedback, both good and bad, because sometimes police work isn’t pretty.
This article by Michael O’Dwyer was originally published on PTC Forbes Brand Voice.