Tag Archives: augmented reality

The future of policing: Public trust

Before I go into this week’s post, I want to draw your attention to a new project being undertaken by a college professor acquaintance who, like me, has worked extensively with law enforcement. In his Jan. 1 blog, he writes:

Seeking LE organization willing to work virtually with supervised university students.

The goal is to give students more exposure to real officers and police administrators and fewer TV cops.

Are you willing to partner with a handful of students with retired-LE professor oversight on a small project tailored to your department/team needs? All project ideas considered, prefer those reated to mobile technology, with no anticipated cost to your organization.

I got excited about this even before Carter referred his readers to Cops 2.0, so please head on over, read the rest of his post and let us know if you’re interested. Thanks!

Policing for a future generation

Carefully balanced, technology can lead the wayI find Carter’s work — bringing younger citizens into active law enforcement research — especially important because, as 2012 begins, I think we need to take stock of where policing currently sits. In recent months I’ve seen a couple of opinions that indicate community policing, as we knew it in the 1990s, is dead; meanwhile, technology provides police with ever-increasing amounts of data about private citizens. Law enforcement, along with the societies it polices, is clearly in transition as technology and privacy collide at unprecedented rates.

This is not just true of the kinds and amount of data an investigator can glean from social media, surveillance video, license plate readers, and so on. It will also increase as law enforcement becomes comfortable with technology such as:

How police use these technologies, the extent to which they use them, and what they do with the data will face intense public and legal scrutiny, as they should. Now’s the time to get comfortable with transparency; if you’re worried about the bad guys finding out how you use technology, then you need to get creative about understanding 1) what the public needs to know and 2) how to communicate it to reduce privacy fears without giving away too many details.

Transparency sits between accountability and exposure

This may be more important than you think. As Scott Dickson wrote the other day, some agencies remain steeped in politics, manipulating their crime statistics by asking officers not to take reports. This, as Scott writes, is a double public relations whammy: not only does it look bad to citizens, who are unlikely to support budget increases for such an unprofessional agency; it also hurts the agency’s ability to see (and thus respond to) emerging problem patterns.

That’s especially worrisome given the balancing act our culture finds itself in as we begin a new decade. This infographic from the Institute for the Future has an interesting item, a “critical balance” of exposure and accountability that notes:

In the face of growing demand for accountability, public exposure will emerge as as a multifaceted strategy for disrupting existing power structures, both hidden and obvious, both criminal and socially beneficial.

There is both danger and opportunity in that balance: danger to certain law enforcement power structures, like the kind that manipulate crime stats. But also opportunity, for innovative investigators to understand and exploit how criminal power structures are being disrupted.

Indeed, Tim Burrows made relevant predictions in his recent post for the IACP Social Media Beat:

  • The ‘love-in’ experienced, “just because” the public’s local police are using social media is over and the public will demand (and deserve) greater accountability.
  • There will be less tolerance for mistakes, faux pas, and ignorance.
  • Working partnerships with individuals of influence, community groups, professional partnerships, and other police agencies will be standard.

As arms of the government, it’s incumbent on police to provide fair leadership to their communities. The law enforcement commander who doesn’t believe he has to justify his agency’s technology use — who believes crime-fighting is justification unto itself — necessarily invites public scrutiny. So does the commander who takes advantage of grant money without a long-term strategy to go with it; both COPS and homeland security programs have seen this happen.

True transparency shows strength, not weakness

This month’s Officer.com column describes using content to serve an agency’s goals, whether related specifically to social media, or more broadly to relationship-building. Besides that column, nearly two years ago (!) I wrote about one example of this kind of activity. There’s a lot of promise for communication. But also a lot of agencies that are so focused on the status quo that they can’t get out of their own way.

Digital content shared through social media can show how police are relevant and important to civil society, as well as weaknesses that need to be shored up. This is the exact opposite of stat manipulation because it’s not trying to cover over weakness; it’s leadership in asking for help to solve the problem.

Yes, the public needs to know a strong police force can competently and adequately enforce laws; but that’s during personal or community crisis. If an agency can’t provide services, in or out of crisis, because it lacks the funds to buy the technology that would enable that provision, then the public deserves to know up front, and deserves to become part of the solution. That was the promise of community policing.

What balances are you striking in your police work?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Calm Vistas

High tech roundup: December 2011

I was blinded by scienceIf 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.

Some highlights from this past month:

Newark police headquarters goes high tech

A “mission control” center for disaster response, a high-tech-investigations room that gives city detectives real-time access to federal crime databases — and a meeting room where community groups can meet with police leaders.

The way this story was packaged caught my eye because even with all the ostensibly “Big Brother” style high tech, some emphasis remained for low-tech face to face relationship-building. I’m pretty naive, but I’d like to think this means NPD will use that room to give adequate attention to those who are worried about the way they’re policing. It’s something for other departments to keep in mind as they move further into the realm of high tech.

Three stories on social network analytics

SAS turns social media analytics into intel weapon focuses on sentiment analysis in 28 languages, while Social network analytics saves lives in Iraq is about artificial intelligence. The SAS article is PR-heavy and the InfoWeek article is somewhat oblique (only so much can be discussed without compromising OPSEC), but both are interesting in that they look at technology police may be using in the not too distant future.

Along similar lines was an article about predictive analytics, which prompted me to post on Facebook: “Used the right way, this may be a hybrid between reactive and proactive/community policing. However, data can never replace human relationships, and police shouldn’t overrely on predictive policing.” It’s an argument I made earlier this year in writing about the value of HUMINT and community policing compared to high tech use.

A two-fer on the use of Predator drones

KXAN in Texas covered a convention of UAV enthusiasts, many of whom do help law enforcement on search and rescue missions. Just a day later, though, the LA Times featured law enforcement use of federal agencies’ drones, questioning whether the routine practice is wise. Although courts have ruled that warrantless aerial surveillance is legal — what’s done out in the open cannot be assumed to be legal — drones make surveillance more accessible to police. Once again, it’s officer safety vs. government transparency.

Predictions for law enforcement technology, community service

Finally, I didn’t bookmark this in Scoop.It but it caught my eye nonetheless, because of the predictions it made for the coming year. Most relevant:

  • A store will be where the customer says it is.
  • Augmented reality and plain old reality will merge.
  • Social traction will correlate to brand affinity.

In a law enforcement context:

If stores are going mobile, be prepared for customers to want to interact with police departments this way, too. I’m not talking just getting your text-message Nixle alerts; I mean e-government services like mobile citation payments, real-time crime mapping, crime reporting, etc. Is your website mobile-friendly? Do you have apps for citizens to use?

AR could be huge for law enforcement. The ability to layer information over buildings and faces, for instance, has enormous tactical implications. The only problem is budgetary. But if you’re fortunate enough to live near a university doing research in this area, that can be one good way to jump on the leading edge.

Finally, “social traction and brand affinity” simply mean that more people will pay attention to you online if you’re giving them information they can trust. Not what you think they should trust — but what they can rely on because it educates and is relevant to them. What they need to know, not what you want them to know.

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

Creative Commons License photo credit: jumpinjimmyjava

Workers vs. widgets: policing in the age of high tech

police HUMINT surveillance camerasLast month, Federal News Radio reported that budget cuts to the Defense Department meant choosing between high-tech firepower, and the troops who would become “irrelevant” during a war that implemented it.

Could high tech make police irrelevant?

The Memphis Daily News’ article about information and intelligence sharing among Tennessee law enforcement officers shows the ways in which high tech makes traditional policing more efficient — ultimately, needing fewer officers to do the same amount of work.

This can be especially profound in communities like Rialto (Calif.), where the police department has lost about 10 officers in one year. Web-based crime reporting and crime mapping, together with traditional community policing, has led to decreases in most crimes. Likewise as PoliceOne.com points out, cameras are cheaper than hiring police officers, especially in small towns.

The hidden costs of high tech policing

On the other hand, in Columbus (Ohio), these force multipliers carry hidden costs. Training, upgrades and support staff — the Columbus Police Department’s technical unit has grown from 1 to 20 people — can be pricey.

Last month, The Crime Report provided a good rundown of other high tech issues facing law enforcement. Covering topics as diverse as video evidence, biometrics, social media, predictive policing, and GPS, the article brought up three important points:

  1. There are no substitutes for good traditional police work, which frequently figured into even the most high tech of investigations.
  2. Law enforcement must address the potential for abuse of technology if they are to be effective.
  3. Technology is often seen as a “panacea” rather than critically compared alongside more traditional approaches.

Bodies vs. tech

These issues appear to be coming to bear most strongly in Chicago, where a manpower shortage together with violent crime is colliding with a push toward more high tech use. On the tech side, now-resigned Police Superintendent Jody Weis argues that the technology itself, including consolidating intelligence services under his office,  social network analysis in combating gangs, and the use of high tech surveillance cameras, (along with training) is responsible for reductions in crime.

However, in an opinion about the surveillance cameras, blogger Second City Cop speaks for many officers when he argues, “You know what protects the senior citizen? Cops on the streets.” Chicago media have reported that the 200 expected new hires this year won’t make up for the estimated 300 officers leaving the force, and there are 950 total vacancies. Meanwhile, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel pledged during his campaign to put 1,000 more officers on the streets, not just through hiring but also through administrative changes.

Human vs. electronic intelligence

Former blogger Joe the Cop put this in perspective for me by recalling news articles about intelligence immediately following 9/11. “I remember reading more than a few articles that discussed the lack of HUMINT — human intelligence — as opposed to the availability of electronic data gathered through high-tech methods,” he told me.

“Just as a special ops soldier is needed to run counterinsurgency on the ground, and a rifleman is needed to occupy ground long enough for stability to return, a beat cop is needed to project safety on a given street corner.  Cameras and computer analysis don’t do that–they are largely reactive tools that allow for more effective investigation of crimes after they occur.  It’s a cop in uniform on the street who deters crimes.”

Technology cannot multiply a force, in other words, without the force deploying it. In Columbus, the tech unit’s commander was quoted as saying: “Our challenge… isn’t the technology or the funding; it’s having enough staff to manage all the different projects right now.”

Indeed, it is not about playing technology and staff off against each other, as the Defense Department implies. Instead, it’s about figuring out how the cops on the street work in conjunction with those in the predictive analysis unit.

Joe’s point about HUMINT plays this up. Cops on the street deter crimes, and while they are doing that, they are also noticing things. Fundamentally, this is community policing: knowing enough about the neighborhood and the people in it to know when something is amiss.

That’s why taking cops out of cruisers and putting them back on foot was so important: with driving occupying so much of their attention, they couldn’t see the same things they could while standing on the corner, couldn’t hear the same things they could while listening to passersby.

HUMINT provides context to the intel coming in to predictive analysis centers from technology. This is even more true when the officers can use technology — think images and video uploaded from the street to the center, or even augmented reality — to enhance their observations in real time, rather than at roll call or in meetings.

What kinds of technical skills will police need for these roles — and more importantly, how might we turn those assumptions on their head? That’ll be the topic in my next post.

Where do you see the balance between technology and personnel? Leave a comment!

Creative Commons License photo credit: BinaryApe