High tech roundup: February 2012

iPhone 4 cameraIf you came to this blog by way of Twitter or Facebook, you know that for several months I’ve been using the Scoop.It bookmarking service to aggregate news items about how police are using high tech. One reason I like it: its magazine-style format is nicely laid out, easy to read and easy to digest. Monthly I pull out articles that seem to revolve around a few particular themes. This month: digital investigative techniques, and transparency through video and other content.

Digital investigative techniques

Should police receive training in low-level online crimes? The UK-based Commons Science and Technology committee thinks so. This kind of strategy, like “Broken Windows” for the online world, would encourage police to care about the small problems in order to help citizens feel cared about and willing to partner to stop bigger crimes.

Also consider whether you, even if you don’t consider yourself a “high tech” investigator, need to geolocate images from mobile phones. A good step-by-step procedure comes from digital forensic examiner Girl, Unallocated. Take the time to try it out for yourself, and think about robbery, stalking, and other cases you might need geolocation data for.

Data visualizations — graphs, maps, and so on — can be important in court; would you create them if you knew how? Pete Warden documents his methodology, a process he says came via trial and error. It includes choosing a question, sketching the presentation, crunching the data—and finding the surprises. (Don’t be afraid of surprises during an investigation. They mean you’re doing good work.)

Making police work more transparent

Dashboard and body-worn cameras are up for debate in Nevada after Henderson police were filmed striking a motorist in diabetic shock; unions want more say in their installation and use. But as the Las Vegas Sun noted, “The city of Seattle and its police department, facing accusations of excessive force, have been sued seeking release of video footage. The department has lost tens of thousands of videos, the station, KOMO-TV, reported.”

I’ve written before about the importance of content that can show the public a police department’s need for better training. But if police are unwilling to make themselves more transparent, they are likely still to face the issue from other quarters. A Forbes.com op-ed noted:

Technology doesn’t just provide citizens with a way to tell their own version of events, it gives police departments all over the country a reason to implement much-needed reforms that can improve transparency and public trust. This will make cops safer and their jobs easier.”

Indeed, Baltimore police created new rules for public recordings of police. Follow suit, and keep up with your training, which — despite its traditional place on the chopping block in hard times — may just be more important now than ever.

Transparency in digital investigations

Of concern to citizens: how German police used Facebook to identify citizens, and how Denver police record witness descriptions. In both places, the human memory under duress is at issue. Going deeper, however, is the question: how do we use technology? In our drive to understand and adapt it, do we overrely on it?

You can’t, obviously, be transparent about everything in police work… but online engagement is a start toward the kind of transparency that puts citizens at ease enough to listen to you. My January column for Officer.com discussed police departments as media platforms, and a related article from the Content Marketing Institute, “Creating Content that Serves Its Civic Duty,” provides several examples of government websites doing content right—encouraging public engagement.

As Luke Fretwell wrote just recently, “Creating sustainable, meaningful civic contributions to government” is hard to encourage much less measure. Yet government agencies can do it, as Cumbria (UK) police showed when they held a live webchat about Internet safety.

How are you communicating your agency’s use of high tech to the public?

Creative Commons License photo credit: jesus_leon

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