Published January 27, 2014
Criminals may not have a chance in 2025, when the cop of the future will be an imposing crime-fighting machine, able to see around corners in urban environments, identify suspects at a glance, safely pursue stolen cars and effortlessly bring unruly crowds under control.
Police departments around the country are already testing technologies like Google Glass, lapel cameras and tracking devices that allow safer pursuit of fleeing suspects. But this is merely a glimpse of what’s to come, according to experts contacted by FoxNews.com. They said increasing reliance on data mining, predictive analysis and all manner of gadgets will make getting away with crime harder than ever.
“The emergence of new technologies will have significant impact on how front-line police services are delivered in the years ahead and how police officers will look and perform their duties in the future,” Ger Daly, global managing director of Accenture Defense and Public Safety, told FoxNews.com. “All forces endeavor to provide high levels of situational awareness to front-line officers, and technology is a key enabler of this.”
One of the key aspects of the “digital revolution” already under way in the form of ongoing trials at police departments in Los Angeles, London and Byron, Ga., is the use of body cameras. These lightweight devices offer increased accountability for officers and departments alike, providing real-time video evidence of interactions with the public. In the future, technologies like lapel cameras and Google Glass may allow officers and emergency responders to access live information feeds as they engage or pursue suspects on city streets or inside buildings.
“The camera within the device could potentially capture the facial images of persons of interest or suspects and run these images against databases of known felons, repeat offenders, wanted or missing persons,” Daly told FoxNews.com.
LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck has said the addition of lapel cameras — currently being tested in the field for a three-month period — will aid investigators and provide an additional degree of accountability. The LAPD then plans to purchase 600 cameras this summer for officers with more than $1 million in private donations. The department has also already equipped 300 of its 1,200 patrol cars with video recorders, according to The Associated Press, a longtime goal since the 1991 beating of Rodney King.
Another key concept of the near-future cop will be mobility and the ability to respond to emergencies with decreasing resources, according to “American Policing in 2022: Essays on the Future of a Profession,” a Department of Justice collection of ideas on the next decade of law enforcement.
“In 2012, troopers are beginning to utilize mobile applications such as electronic traffic citations and traffic crash reports,” Michigan State Police Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue wrote. “By 2022, troopers will have a one-stop shop records management system that will incorporate all common administrative needs, including time accounting, report writing, form completion and data collection. Troopers will also have direct access to sophisticated biometric information that will make hiding one’s identity nearly impossible.”
Biometrics — or identification based on unique physical or behavioral characteristics — has long been used to identify terrorists, wanted criminals, sex offenders and immigration violators at airports and ports of entry around the world, but many in law enforcement circles expect the technology to explode in coming years. Balancing public safety versus privacy implications becomes the next key question, experts told FoxNews.com.
“The potential is there to have it become pretty Draconian if we choose to go that route,” said John Roman, senior fellow at The Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
But while technology is rapidly evolving within law enforcement, Roman said not to expect a Judge Dredd-style urban cop any time soon.
“They’ll look less adversarial rather than more,” Roman said, adding not to expect bulky, intimidating bulletproof vests or huge visors. “That fits with the evolving theory of policing.”
Expect to see a greater prevalence of officers more focused on building ties with local residents, perhaps even those carrying business cards to establish relationships. Roman said such an approach has been extremely effective for Chief Cathy Lanier in Washington, D.C., where long-term rates of murder and violent crime continue to drop despite a slight uptick in killings last year.
Looking forward, some shiny new gadgets could further propel those rates downward in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. Crime-fighting tools tailored for crowd control, conflict management and improved safety for officers and citizens alike are now making waves among lawmen, including so-called GPS bullets and the Acoustic Warning Signal Projector, or A-WASP, which emits a “highly directional” beam of intense sound to stun a suspect in a less-lethal fashion than conventional methods.
GPS bullets, meanwhile, allow officers to shoot tracking devices onto other vehicles to be monitored remotely and are already reportedly in use in four states. Civil liberties advocates say the technology should not present major problems if used the way they’re intended, although usage of the technology should always require a warrant if used outside the “heat of a chase,” according to Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“And on the other side of the equation, this has the potential to obviate the need for high-speed pursuits by police cars through cities and towns, which are very dangerous and kill hundreds each year, with a third or more of those fatalities being innocent bystanders,” Stanley wrote in a blog posting last month. “As with all technologies, of course, its effects will be more complicated than many expect because suspects won't likely be passive but will change their behavior in response to the technology. I would imagine that quickly people being chased by the police would realize that they have no hope of escape unless they somehow get that device off their car, and will respond accordingly with whatever strategies they can create.”
With more than 18,000 individual police forces throughout the country, from the New York Police Department and its 34,500 uniformed cops to other units employing as little as two or three officers, forecasting the future across those agencies is very difficult – if not impossible.
“Predicting technology deployment is always a really complicated business, particularly in the law enforcement sector,” said Brian A. Jackson, director of the Safety and Justice program at the RAND Corporation. “It’s a very diverse market.”
Those differences in organizational size equate to unbalanced reliance and deployment of new technologies, Jackson told FoxNews.com. But across the board, a premium is being placed on collecting large amounts of information from dash-mounted cameras to closed-circuit television networks.
“The problem becomes how do we actually use that data to get value out of it,” Jackson said. “One way to do that is a lot of people … the next stage is employing software elements that queue them and video analytics that focus on something different on one of the cameras.”
Those “force multipliers,” or methods that allow departments to simply get more policing done with less manpower, will be crucial in coming years to allow officers to focus on more valuable usages of their time. But precisely how that balance will be reached remains to be seen.
“For many technologies, the devil’s in the details,” Jackson told FoxNews.com. “ ... There will absolutely be incremental changes, but my guess is that cops in 10 years will look quite similar to the way they do now, but what’s most interesting is what the differences will be.”