Police Technology

Greater Manchester Police officers in Piccadil...
Greater Manchester Police officers in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week I wrote about some general trends in the future of policing and touched a little on the use of drones to help enforcemnet and make it easier for the police to catch fleeing criminals. This week I’m going to look at some of the personal kit that police officers are likely to come equipped with as standard.

First some key assumptions

  • stupid criminals will still try to stab/shoot/injure police officers, so armour is here to stay
  • British policing by consent will require our police to have faces, to interact with the public and to walk the beat in busy public places
  • Regulations on evidence will remain, possibly updated in light of new technology and possibilities (although the fact that PACE has lasted thirty years without calls to change it suggest that it is a pretty good piece of legislation)
  • Budget cuts, and the key political metric of ‘Bobbies on the Beat’, will lead to streamlining paperwork to get as many of the PCs out of the station as possible (perhaps with smaller office footprints to save money).

Again, taking the William Gibson view, we have the following extant or experimental technologies that might help the police transform their efficiency levels without compromising public protection.

  • google glass, or something similar allowing head up displays as well as recording of events
  • police radios already support mesh networking, data transmission and are issued on an individual basis
  • firearms are starting to get chip controls to limit who can use them (see Judge Dredd) and the US government is working on linking this to tactical HUD for soldiers, so police firearms officers could get this too
  • eye control is being worked on, currently paraplegics and fast jet fighter pilots are getting it, but given time it will be available more widely
  • data analytics is starting to get very good and approaching real time, linking the data out of the PNC into a HUD along with other publicly or government information will be possible
  • voice to text and voice recognition software is improving steadily.
  • smartphones are ubiquitous and people tend to take them everywhere and keep them switched on
  • CCTV cameras aren’t going to disappear

So this gives an ordinary police officer that looks remarkably like one you might see today, but with wraparound see through glasses with elements of a Head Up Display (HUD) to help them identify people and tag anyone they’d like to follow or speak with. If this is linked back to the PNC info and some facial matching then you get the ability to identify most of the population very rapidly and to understand their assurance rating. Potentially known offenders can be flagged, especially if they have violent tendencies or are wanted in connection with a crime. There’s also the ability to bring back other relevant records, medical where people have conditions that could be aggravated by stress or confinement (this needs some care, you wouldn’t automatically show everything about anyone to a police officer, there’d need to be some proportionality to it and it would need to be relevant to an enquiry).

This would make police officers more effective, especially detectives. Where they needed to talk to people they can start off knowing the answers to the identity questions, giving them more leverage with the unco-operative. It would also make life easier because the paperwork wouldn’t need to be done later, it could be done while an interview was in progress with good speech to text for transcripts, semantic tagging of the video using eye control and perhaps even a built in stress/lie detector. If this was also combined with an ability to access location based use of a smartphone (or whatever replaces smartphones) on a suspect, probably with direct permission at the time, then it could rapidly exclude lots of people from enquiries when combined with the CCTV records.

This wouldn’t stop crime, it would change the patterns of crime and force the career and organised criminals to be a lot more professional in what they do to avoid being caught. It would probably also let the police roll up gangs when one of them made a mistake, as the records linking them together are going to be easier to join with better analytics than they are now. It can and is done now, but it isn’t a real time process yet, it can take weeks of digging by skilled analysts to identify the networks. By 2040 we might have got to where the movies have us now.

Forensics technology is also going to come on leaps and bounds. We’ve already got to the point where you can make a DNA barcode with a hand held device. This is only going to improve over the next 25 years. I doubt it will go as far as every police officer being so equipped, forensics is a delicate and specialist role. However what it will do is allow faster results, and perhaps detectives could run DNA profiles during interviews with suspects, which could help eliminate or implicate them faster. It will also make it a lot harder for criminals to deny that they’ve been somewhere, although I expect that counter-measures to DNA scanning will start to appear.