to use it is a waste of time. "You have to focus on function, not technology," he said. "You can get wrapped around an axle if you're focused on the technology. We have to have the mindset that we won't have the technology, so we have to adopt procedures. Technology is always in a supporting role."

That's partly because there isn't much money for experimental technology in the law enforcement realm, and there's the danger of investing in a technology that will be obsolete soon after it hits the field. "You have to be careful you're not trying to solve yesterday's crime," Heal said.

For instance, trends in criminal behavior point to less street crime because people are carrying less cash. "You need to focus on what the future is going to look like."
 

Boxers or Briefs?
Ancillary policy issues, as Heal calls them, can also play a role in whether a technology is marketed. One of those is privacy. For example, 3-D scanners would let prison officials detect contraband on inmates and visitors, but is it too intrusive?

"It shows everything," Heal said. "Is it too revealing? Is it a search? Developers worry about that."

There are many obstacles to clear before new technology gets deployed. "For every gateway to the future," he said, "there are a thousand guardians of the past."

Hundreds of technologies keep Heal and his staff busy tinkering and collaborating with law enforcement worldwide on what works and what doesn't, some of which we've featured. Though the odds are long, one of these technologies might just make a current tool go the way of the dinosaur.

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor