The future of policing is just around the corner. Law enforcement agencies across the country — and around the globe — are rushing headlong into the adoption of new technology and policing techniques.
Five years ago, body-worn cameras were virtually unheard of, almost no law enforcement agency in the world owned and operated a drone, and big data analytical techniques were in their infancy. Today, all of these techniques — and a host of others, such as facial recognition technology, fusion centers and shotgun detection tech — are the new currency of modern policing.
Wise law enforcement administrators would be well-advised to consider a number of factors before deploying these new technologies. As was detailed during a recent panel at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) convention, before you buy the new gadget, there are at least four factors that need to be addressed: costs, expectations, privacy policies and security implications.
The cost of deploying a new technology should be the first thing considered. Let’s say, for example, that you are providing body-worn cameras to your personnel. The initial capital cost of deployment is likely to be rather modest — just the unit cost of the camera system for each purchase.
But many purchasers do not give sufficient consideration to operation and maintenance costs of the new system. For body-worn cameras, here are just a few of these costs that might need to be considered:
What is true for body-worn cameras is equally true for any new sensor device that captures data. CCTVs and drone video will, likewise, have storage, training, maintenance, curatorial and response costs associated with their deployment. Any law enforcement agency contemplating adoption of these new technologies would do well to assure themselves of a long-term funding stream before the decision is finalized.
Second, consider how the use of new policing systems will change expectations — and potentially create a dilemma for law enforcement. We will soon face a time where police agencies are collecting ever greater volumes of data, which will place the conscientious police officer on the horns of a nearly impossible dilemma.
On one hand, the police will be expected to have near-perfect knowledge of historical happenings, captured by a variety of sensor devices. It will soon be unacceptable for police to report that they do not have video or audio records of a particular criminal event.
On the other hand, officers will be accused by some of collecting impermissibly large amounts of data on innocent citizens and retaining the data for retrospective analysis. It will, the critics say, be part of the Big Brother syndrome. In the end, the same dynamic that currently attends counter-terrorism efforts — that government is routinely doing too much until the day after an event, when it has done too little — will shortly become the reality for law enforcement as well.
Third, consider the privacy implications of the new data-collection systems being developed. We have realistic concern for the privacy of those citizens who are subject to scrutiny.
As for body-worn cameras, what should be the rules around retention and disclosure of the video they produce? While complete transparency seems, at first blush, the right answer, a moment’s thought suggests it is not. What about video of victims of spousal abuse? Or child victims of sexual offenses? What about the privacy rights of innocent third-parties whose pictures are collaterally captured? And what about the privacy of law enforcement officers — is their every joke about a superior officer now to be captured for posterity?
Finally, potential users of new technology will need to consider carefully the security requirements for the data they are collecting. Law enforcement officials routinely collect some of their citizens' most sensitive personal data. That’s precisely why, for example, the FBI and the IACP have developed important principles that apply to the cloud-based storage of criminal justice information. These new policies acknowledge the potential benefits and security challenges presented by cloud services, and provide law enforcement agencies with resources that can help them successfully deploy a Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) compliant cloud system.
Inevitably, given the volume of data involved, police agencies will need to transition to cloud-based storage systems. And when they do, they will need to ask themselves whether to operate a unitary system, with all of their data maintained at the highest security level, or whether to operate a disaggregated system with different levels of security.
New data-sensing technology is the wave of the policing future. But it is no panacea. New deployments bring with them their own set of considerations. And those taking their first steps on the road to greater capabilities would be wise to pause and ask themselves the hard questions of cost, expectation, privacy and security. To be sure, the questions have answers — but police must know what the answers are, and what their communities expect them to be, before the questions are asked of them.