Law enforcement agencies have always been early adopters of technology. In the late 1990s, for example, digital cameras were installed on roads to detect traffic regulation violations, notably speeding. More recently police body worn cameras have been introduced in many different countries. In the US, police forces are rolling out 50,000, in the UK its around 17,000 and in Australia more than 10,000 have been deployed since 2015, according to a report in the New Scientist.
Academics at Cambridge University have found that police wearing body-cameras received 93 per cent fewer complaints from the public. This has been put down to the camera increasing accountability on both sides. It is an example of how technology can make a difference in modern policing.
At the same time, crime is changing in the digital age. The police must deal with new and emerging cybercrimes, whilst still addressing crimes such as disturbances, shoplifting and domestic violence.
Police forces are increasingly realizing the need for high performance connectivity, providing real-time access to applications required to check the validity of a driving license, for example.
In France, the national Gendarmerie and the National Police are equipping their operational forces with secure, connected tablets and smartphones, supplied by Orange Business and Sony. Certified by ANSSI (National Agency for Secure Information Systems), the systems provide users with encrypted communications and secure mobile applications. Documents are shared in a secure private cloud.
Lieutenant-Colonel Fumery of the National Gendarmerie emphasized that this project is more than just a tool, it was one of the cornerstones of its digital transformation. “With access to ultra-secure real-time information, the gendarme will lose less time – the citizen also,” he said.
Police forces have been using drone technology for a while as a cheaper alternative to helicopters in some roles. The unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with cameras have proven so successful with Devon and Cornwall Police Force that it has become the first police force in the UK to launch a dedicated 24/7 drone unit. The force is expecting others to follow suit.
Devon and Cornwall Police are using the drones for everything from missing person investigations to tracking suspects in firearms incidents and counter-terrorism operations. It is also using them to monitor its 900 km of coastline and woodlands to help fight wildlife crime.
In the US, Larimer County, Colorado law enforcement agencies have started to use drones to investigate fatal and serious accident scenes. Using drones in crash investigations to take detailed photographs has enabled evidence to be gathered faster and roads to be opened quicker.
Big data and crime prevention
Police forces are starting to use big data, machine learning and predictive analytics to understand and combat crime.
Data harvested from the Internet of Things (IoT) by police can be analyzed to create a picture of crime patterns and trends. By applying predictive analytics and machine learning to big data, police can spot where violent crime may happen next.
In the US, Chicago Police Department has teamed up with the University of Chicago Crime Lab to provide real-time data analysis to increase the effectiveness of policing in two of the city’s highest crime districts. License plate recognition has been installed in the areas together with ShotSpotter, a system that can locate exactly when and where gunshots were fired.
The teams are using Hunchlab, a web based pro-active patrol management system that forecasts when and where crimes might emerge and recommend the best way to respond. It also reflects changing risk landscapes to ensure areas aren’t over policed. In addition, it pushes out valuable contextual data to officers in the field, such as the forecast risk of crime types in the area.
Recognizing the faces
Facial recognition technology has huge potential in the police’s weaponry against fighting crime. The technology has been around a while, but having analytics algorithms to process images in real time is the making it much more effective.
It is already yielding results: several men were recently arrested at a Six Nations rugby match using Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) software, which enabled the police to compare the image of a suspect against 500,000 custody photographs to find a match.
Eye detection software and motion and sensor technology are also being used to detect psychological and physical behavior to tell if people are telling the truth. An Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real Time (AVATAR) is already being tested by the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) to help border security police to determine if travelers are coming into the country legally or for the right motives.
The future of crime stoppers
Many law enforcement agencies are facing a future of reduced funding. Powerful new technologies provide a way for forces to operate and server their communities more efficiently.
Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.