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Digital Tools See Major Uptake in Justice and Public Safety

From location mapping for first responders to automated court transcriptions, justice and public safety is a hot spot for companies serving the state and local government market.

close up of body a camera on a police officer's chest
Adobe Stock
Digital tools are increasingly permeating justice and public safety. Systems promise to give emergency responders and police more detailed insights and help short-staffed courts prepare records and keep defendants informed. Any high-stakes tech must be used carefully, of course, and those adopting the tools may need to address concerns about how the technology works or is being put to use.

For example, first responders and emergency dispatchers want to arrive on the scene faster, prepared with better knowledge of what they’re going into — many tools aim to help. RapidSOS uses GPS data from 911 callers’ devices to pinpoint their locations and better direct first responders. The company’s integrations and partnerships with other providers also allow for giving firefighters, police and medical personnel more situational details, like information about connected buildings or the severity of in-building fires. Similarly, RapidDeploy’s location solutions can help responders find callers who are unable to speak or outside of addressed areas, and the what3words mobile app provides user locations within about 10 feet.

Meanwhile, 3AM Innovations’ platform offers 3D digital mapping to help responders strategize. And Motorola-owned Rave Mobile Safety’s offerings include a service where residents can create profiles listing key details about themselves and their households (such as medical conditions) that can be shared with 911 operators and first responders.

In surveillance tech, SoundThinking’s ShotSpotter may be the best-known acoustic gunshot detection system. It aims to rapidly alert and direct police to outdoor gunfire, hastening response and enabling police to handle incidents that otherwise may go unreported.

Police use of the tool remains controversial, however. Detractors have questioned its accuracy and reliability, although a company-contracted audit found a low false-positive rate. Others have raised concerns over whether police adoption has produced helpful results: Some worry use of the tool may exacerbate problematic practices, such as disparate over-policing or violent police response, and has not clearly led to better victim outcomes or lower gun violence.

Other gunshot detection providers include Shooter Detection Systems and Acoem, the latter of which also identifies sounds of breaking glass, yelling and explosives.

Automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) from companies like Flock Safety, Axon, Leonardo, Motorola’s Vigilant Solutions and Neology attempt to help police identify vehicles of interest, based on license plates or other visual characteristics. The idea is to help cops catch car or car component thefts that officers didn’t witness in person. It may also be used to identify cars belonging to missing persons or to suspects involved in other crimes. ALPR could spare officers from embarking on potentially dangerous car chases, because they can instead just look up the car in the system.

ALPR use has not been issue-free, and errors with the tech or with police practices have at times led to inaccurate data, mistaken release of personal information and holding up the wrong party at gunpoint. At least 17 states have laws regulating how law enforcement can use such tech, but in others, police departments lack clear rules around how long the data can be retained and how it can be shared, sparking privacy and civil rights concerns.

Body-worn cameras from companies like Axon and Motorola record officers’ interactions with residents, providing records to help get to the bottom of allegations of police misconduct. Departments have different policies around when cameras must be turned on or off.

In the justice space, lawyers and courts frequently need transcriptions, and some believe automated solutions can help. JusticeText, for example, generates automated transcripts of police body camera footage used as evidence to make it easier for public defenders to review the information. Companies like For The Record and Verbit provide automated speech-to-text services to help courts create or draft transcripts of proceedings. Many courts report difficulties hiring enough court reporters, which can result in proceedings being delayed or conducted without a verbatim record. The National Court Reporters Association, however, disputes the accuracy and merits of AI-produced transcripts.

Before court documents can be publicly posted, private details must be redacted. Judicial employees typically do this, but a tool from Tyler Technologies-owned Computing System Innovations aims to spare them the labor by automating this and other court document management processes.

And defendants can face fines or arrest warrants if they fail to appear for their court dates — even if they didn’t intend to skip. Providers like FieldWare seek to head off such issues by sending automated hearing reminders.

This article is part of a series looking at the gov tech companies bringing their expertise to areas seeing major growth in the market, which originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.