Has high-tech helped or hurt crime fighting? DoJ wants to know

US Department of Justice grant to look at how technology has changed law enforcement

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The US Department of Justice is offering a $1 million grant to study the impact advanced technologies such as mobile communications, sensor networks and Web-based applications have had on the law enforcement community and crime.

Form the DoJ: "The introduction of technology into policing practices has significantly altered the way in which police officers perform their jobs. From the introduction of the automobile to the use of computers in those automobiles, police practices have kept pace with the introduction of new technologies. There remains a question, however, as to whether those technologies have had a successful impact on police practices. James Byrne and Gary Marx recently noted in their article on the implementation and impact of technology on crime prevention, -New technological innovations have been developed to prevent crime and improve the performance of the police, but we know remarkably little about how and why certain innovations are adopted, and the consequences - both intended and unintended - of technology-driven solutions to the problem of crime.  Despite wide adoption, the impact of these technologies on police performance and crime control is not clear."

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The DoJ notes that the advent of the car and of two-way wireless communications systems brought about what it called an "incident-driven" policing strategy that relied on random patrol and rapid response in radio-equipped patrol cars to prevent crime. "However, research conducted in the latter part of the century on the impact of this strategy found it to be too costly in terms of the actual number of officers and vehicles that an agency would have to deploy to have a meaningful impact. Research also found that adopting this strategy contributed to the social distancing of the police from the community, with its consequent negative effect on an agency's ability to not only prevent and detect crime but also on its ability to enforce the law and to maintain order."

Today, most police cars have mobile computers or devices such as smart phones that provide the officer ready access to data and information at the scene. Although these technological innovations have been adopted to meet the needs of various police functions, they also have been linked to various policing strategies designed to control crime, such as community- and problem-oriented policing.

Police agencies are also taking advantage of Web-based social media as a means to better engage the community and as an investigative tool. In England, the DoJ says London Metropolitan Police Department used intelligence gathered from social media sites in its efforts to maintain order during the riots that took place in the summer of 2011. Policing agencies are also using Web-based collaborative working environments to engage the private sector in joint crime prevention and detection efforts.

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The DoJ says policing agencies are beginning to incorporate surveillance systems into their strategies on a large scale, including closed-circuit television, automated license plate recognition, and gunshot detection/sensor systems. The Camden, NJ, Police Department has lost roughly half of its officers since 2006 because of budgetary constraints. To compensate, it has adopted a strategy that uses gunshot detection and closed-circuit television systems to identify problem areas, and an integrated vehicle location and dispatch system to deploy resources, the DoJ stated.

Through the grant the DoJ hopes to address a number of issues including:

  • The impact of police technologies on policing strategies designed, developed, and implemented to control and prevent crime and improve police performance?
  • Why are certain police technologies adopted by police agencies and how are they integrated into broader policing strategies?
  • Have these police technologies adopted over the last 20 years made a difference in how the police respond to crime?
  • Explain how specific technologies are linked to policing strategies to promote the intended outcomes.
  • Community acceptance of technology, particularly as it relates to privacy concerns.

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