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Police Use New Technologies to Fight Crime

The software, hardware and communications networks, more and more of them based on mobile systems, can equip officers with enforcement and investigative tools for use in the field.

(TNS) — Police agencies have embraced an array of new mobile and stationary technologies in a quest to not only keep up with — but stay well ahead of — criminals and wrongdoers.

"There are a lot of issues facing law enforcement in virtually every encounter they are involved in, and they are using technology more and more to address those issues," said David Roberts, senior program manager for the technology center at the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The new technologies are becoming increasingly intertwined with the daily work of police officers on the front lines of law enforcement. The software, hardware and communications networks, more and more of them based on mobile systems, can equip officers with enforcement and investigative tools to provide them with more information on demand in the field.

"The changes are coming at an extremely fast rate," Roberts said.

Body cameras, in-vehicle computers, license plate readers, facial recognition technologies, and even mobile consoles for fingerprint reading, are among the tools that are gaining rapid adoption.

"When it comes to technology, we want to maximize our operating efficiency," said San Jose Police Department Deputy Chief Jeff Marozick of the police agency's Bureau of Technical Services.

That's especially crucial for San Jose and other big-city police departments such as Oakland that have acute staffing shortages for front-line police officers.

"San Jose is one of the least-staffed police departments in the nation," Marozick said.

Some police departments, such as the agency serving Lincoln, Nebraska, are using map-based apps that can alert them to locations of known criminal offenders.

"Officers can drive down the street, and have a smartphone or a tablet device, and have the map app open," Roberts said. "The app can tell them the addresses of a person wanted for a crime, known incidents of felonies in the area, someone who is a registered sex offender. It provides situational awareness that is integrated with records management and emergency call systems."

The whole point of the new technologies is to provide real-time data in a variety of ways.

"These are very clever uses of technology," Roberts said.

Yet even the new technologies are being upgraded. San Jose police are using one wireless service provider based on a 3G network. But the agency sometimes faces glitches if towers go on the blink because 4G is far-more advanced.

"It's a bit of an Achilles' heel for us," Marozick said.

San Jose police administrators want to add new mobile computers and software to their vehicles and they believe that the communications systems that are the foundation of those devices need to be state-of-the-art.

Police in San Jose also are planning to operate with two cell carriers in case one is out of commission in a particular area. The new computers will be equipped with dual modems that can see out two carriers simultaneously.

"We want to maintain a more reliable connection and faster connections," Marozick said. "More and more data is being put out to officers in the field."

San Jose police estimate that the new systems will be upgraded by the end of this year.

The agency also is beginning to requisition vendors that can provide body cameras for the San Jose department.

These new technologies are coming under increased scrutiny by civil libertarians who are concerned that privacy rights of citizens could be endangered by the advanced tech.

"One of my biggest concerns is that mobile technologies can be used to gather info about people in ways that violate their Fourth Amendment rights," said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

License plate readers, facial recognition technologies, videos from body cameras, coupled with street cameras and drones, could be aggregated into huge databases that can enable law enforcement to improperly gather information about people's habits and destinations.

But law enforcement advocates counter that the new technologies are necessary in a world that is being deluged and interconnected by information.

"Officers used to have to go to a call box to get assignments," Roberts said. "The real value of all this technology is to empower the officer in the field. Now, data is pushed directly to their devices."

©2016 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.