You Have the Right to Innovate: Policing Technology

Bobby Miller

Violent crime in the United States has been declining since 2008, according to CNN. Although this could be attributed to a number of factors, one of the deterrents of crime is an effective police force. As is the case for many other professions, technology is continually changing the policing field. From seemingly simple apps for officers and citizens to flying cameras, a number of tools have emerged to help police departments keep their areas safe.

Throwbot Robotic Camera

The Recon Scout Throwbot, as reported on Computerworld, is a robotic camera that allows police officers to see what’s going on in a dangerous crime scene from a safe distance. It has proven so effective that the police department in Eden Prairie, Minn., takes one to every crime scene.

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For instance, the Throwbot allows the officers to scope out a suspicious building before going inside for a warrant search. This may prevent the needless death of a police officer or police dog. “If it gets shot, picked up or smashed by an assailant, then at least you know that the bad guy is there,” Sgt. Carter Staaf of the Eden Prairie Police Department said to Computerworld.

It can also roll under vehicles to check for explosives. Having the extra set of eyes can be essential for various situations.

Drones Provide Video Footage

With privacy concerns on the rise, drones are a controversial tool for police departments to use. However, like the Throwbot, a drone can allow officers to scope out a crime scene from a safe distance.

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This is the T-Hawk MAV drone.
Credit: Honeywell International

Sgt. Andrew Cohen of the Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida believes a drone could be of assistance, as Computerworld reported. He explained that it could be used in situations where the suspect is barricaded or has a hostage. The video footage could help officers decide how to handle a difficult situation. As for privacy concerns, Cohen noted that they can only use drones with the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration, and the devices tend to be too loud for spying on people.

ShotSpotter Detects Gunfire

ShotSpotter is an acoustic surveillance system that listens for gunfire and immediately reports it to police. Its official website notes that the program can help police officers determine where the shot was fired, which type of weapon was used and more. This is particularly useful in dangerous areas where people are reluctant to report gunfire to the police—or where gunfire is so common that residents have grown apathetic to it.

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The ShotSpotter program identifies when and where a gunshot was fired.
Credit: ComputerWorld.com

The company’s website noted that “agencies that have adopted SST solutions and best practices as part of a comprehensive crime-reduction strategy have reported reductions in urban gunfire by up to 80 percent and related violent crime by as much as 40 percent.” However, this all comes at a cost.

Computerworld noted that the company typically charges “$40,000 to $60,000 per square mile per year” for its services. Also, many police departments have to seek approval from the residents before installing the surveillance system due to privacy concerns.

PredPol: Predicting Crime

Knowledge is power. In the case of the program PredPol, knowledge is the power to predict the future. Its purpose is to use available data to tell police officers where crimes are likely to occur next.

CNN reported that “it calculates its forecasts based on times and locations of previous crimes, combined with sociological information about criminal behavior and patterns.” In 2012, it was tested by police departments in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, Cali., with “promising results.” But the report concedes that it is being adopted slowly due to tight budgets.

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Despite the costs, departments using the technology are reported to be pleased with it. Donnie Flower, the director of business development for the company, noted in an email that the service is currently most popular in California thanks to “word-of-mouth by happy police departments in the originating cities of Los Angeles and Santa Cruz.”

App Arrest

While some pieces of technology help officers on duty, others are meant to promote safety by connecting residents with their local police force. Effective communication can alert people when a crime is taking place, and anyone who knows details about a crime can easily share their knowledge with authorities.

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App Arrest, an app that police departments can make available for download to local citizens, facilitates communication. The official website lists various features the app has, including a sex offender list, a crime map, an easy link for submitting tips to police officers, a program to report abandoned or missing vehicles, a tab for commending good officers, push notifications and more.

Residents can download the app onto iPhones, iPads, Android phones and Android tablets. Although it’s free for citizens, police departments must pay $399 to set up the program. In addition, $99 goes to the Apple development team every year, and the program is maintained with a monthly payment of $119.

Society Harnessing Equipment

The technology of Society Harnessing Equipment, or SHE, is a more unusual way of connecting citizens to local police departments. Basically, it’s a crime-fighting bra.

The Telegraph reported that SHE was inspired by a vicious gang rape and murder that took place in Delhi, India, at the end of 2012. Aeronautical engineering students Manisha Mohan, Niladri Basu Bal and Rimpi Tripathi wanted to create something that would protect women from such atrocities.

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The website explained that “the bra has been designed with a pressure [sensor] plugged into an electric circuit and measures have put in place so it does not harm the wearer, only the attacker.” It only reacts to heavy pressure, ensuring that it is not triggered by accident. A switch also allows the woman to activate the device herself. Once activated, the bra sends texts to the local police department and to anyone else the woman has registered in the device. These texts include the woman’s GPS location, letting people know where help is needed.

Since India’s National Crime Records Bureau has reported that one woman in India is raped every 20 minutes, this technology has potential to prevent many crimes. The students are currently trying to streamline the technology so that it can be sold at an affordable price.

Basic Technology, Big Results

Not all the technology that officers use has to be specially designed for police departments in order to be effective. For instance, as Computerworld noted, some police departments across the United States find everyday devices like the iPad to be helpful.

William Clark, the chief of police in Jefferson City, Tenn., commented that officers can carry tablet computers wherever they go. “They can tuck it under their arms and walk into a crime scene,” he pointed out. This wouldn’t be so convenient with a laptop, especially since it would take a few minutes to boot up. Additionally, since a tablet computer is portable, it allows police officers to do their work while parked in their patrol car at a prominent location. Just having a police car around can help deter crime. Plus, the technology allows them to handle arrests more quickly so that they can get back on the job.

Even social media, typically viewed as the go-to means of procrastinating, can help out police officers. The Huffington Post reminds its readers that some criminals “are either unaware of how easy it is to find information on social media platforms or just plain dumb.” A number of them use Facebook or other websites to brag about their crimes, which can act as a self-confession in court. Plus, social media provides police departments with a simple medium for spreading crime information to the community. Best of all, social media doesn’t require valuable funds from shrinking police department budgets.

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Credit: NYCriminalLawAdvisor.com

Budgets are a huge obstacle for most crime fighters to overcome. Thanks to the floundering state of the U.S. economy, it’s not uncommon for police departments to lay off members due to budget cuts. In such an environment, fancy technology isn’t realistic. CNN reported that “some police cars still record video on VHS tapes,” which is sad considering that Wal-Mart stopped selling VHS tapes at the beginning of 2006. However, all forms of technology, from expensive and cutting-edge innovations to seemingly mundane tools, can help police officers keep their districts safe.

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