High-Tech Policing

April 21, 2017 • Volume 27, Issue 15
Are new surveillance technologies effective and legal?
By Barbara Mantel


Predictive Policing

The pressure to be smarter in fighting crime will increase the likelihood that predictive policing software will become the norm in American policing within the next 10 years, says Ferguson of the University of the District of Columbia.

But he would like to see cities send in social workers, construction crews and other service providers, and not just police officers, to high-risk areas. For example, if a particular parking lot is experiencing a rash of stolen cars, city workers should figure out the root causes, such as poor lighting, and fix them, he says. “The problem is that all the funding goes through the police, and so we are in this police paradigm.”

HunchLab's Heffner says his company is encouraging police departments to do things that might be a bit outside their comfort zone, such as repositioning intervention services in areas flagged as high risk for narcotics crimes.

“Something that we've talked about with Chicago is if we can accurately predict where the shootings may be,” Heffner says, “we can reposition ambulances so that we reduce the response time, which increases the likelihood of saving the life of the person who ends up getting shot.”

Body cameras also are going to be “increasingly commonplace” in five to 10 years, says the Urban Institute's La Vigne. “This is going to be a standard piece of equipment on sworn officers who interact with the public.”

Tuttle of Axon says a growing number of the cameras will be automatic. Axon has just introduced a model that has a side-arm signal. The sensor is mounted to the officer's holster, and all body-worn cameras within 30 feet automatically turn on when that firearm is drawn. The sensor can be used in other ways too, says Tuttle, including “if you turn your lights on, turn your siren on, open your car door or remove a gun from the car's electronically locked rifle rack.”

“It will be really interesting to see how the effectiveness of body-worn cameras changes when agencies start adopting these more higher-tech models that automatically turn on,” says La Vigne.

Lum of George Mason University says researchers need to look into the unintended effects of body cameras on police behavior. One study has shown that officers might become more legalistic and choose to “arrest an individual as opposed to use their discretion” and issue a warning, she says.

Studies are also needed on whether the cameras “can reduce implicit or explicit bias and differential treatment based on race, sex, age, ethnicity or other extralegal characteristics,” according to Lum. After all, a federal judge ordered New York City to get body cameras as part of a ruling that found the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices wrongly targeted minorities.79

As sophisticated technologies become more common over the next several years, civil liberties and community groups expect greater civilian oversight of the police.

“In this spirit, a powerful coalition of national organizations is launching a multicity legislative initiative, Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS), to introduce more local laws to bring transparency and community control to the acquisition and use of local police surveillance technologies,” the Northern California ACLU chapter's Ozer said in September.80

Ferguson proposes that cities and counties hold annual surveillance summits. Residents, technology experts, elected officials and the police would discuss, before a technology is adopted, “how are we going to protect against racial bias, how are we going to address transparency concerns, how are we going to make sure that it works so we're not wasting money that could be used on building better schools,” he says.

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[79] Nancy G. La Vigne and Margaret Ulle, “Police camera policies: what's in and what's out,” Urban Institute, Jan. 12, 2017,

79. Nancy G. La Vigne and Margaret Ulle, “Police camera policies: what's in and what's out,” Urban Institute, Jan. 12, 2017,

[80] Lum et al., op. cit.; Long, op. cit.

80. Lum et al., op. cit.; Long, op. cit.

Document APA Citation — See Alternate Citation Style
Mantel, B. (2017, April 21). High-tech policing. CQ researcher, 27, 337-360. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2017042107
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