Technology in Law Enforcement
Law enforcement in the United States has experienced radical transformation since its emergence in the mid-1800s. Delving into the law enforcement history provides clues on how law enforcement agencies should provide effective policing. In the earlier period, law enforcement focused on punishing offenders, while disregarding efforts to reform them. Additionally, the history of early law enforcement is marred by use deadly force by law enforcement officers. In the last few decades, various forces have fundamentally changed law enforcement in the U.S. The new face of law enforcement depicts law enforcement agencies that aim at reforming criminals, delivering service to people, and using the least force possible. The evolution of modern technology has had perverse and profound impacts in law enforcement. New technologies are helping law enforcement agencies improve efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery. This paper will analyze the operational and administrative issues in law enforcement with a focus on technology.
Operational and Administrative Police Functions
Various technological, structural, social and cultural changes in society have affected the way that police officers routinely perform their job. One of the major changes in society is the interaction between police and media. In the past, newspapers and television were the main channels through which police departments communicated with the public. Police departments would normally hold press conferences when they wanted to get an important message across to the public or when a major incident occurred (Braunstein, 2016). The messages sent via these outlets would reach almost the entire target audience. However, the changing face of the media has made it difficult for police departments to employ traditional methods, which involved primarily leaning on television and newspapers. Currently, a multiplicity of media outlets exist, each appealing to a specific audience and making it difficult for police departments to target specific audience. Currently, multiple media outlets and the advancement of the internet have created additional sources of information (Braunstein, 2016). More young people are getting information from the internet, while the popularity for newspapers is reducing. Social media plays a vital role as a source of information for the youths.
Changing community interactions with the police departments has changed the way police officers routinely do their jobs. In the last decade, community interest in the way police officers do their job has intensified. There is increasing demand for accountability and public trust in police officers. In most states, community demands for police accountability have led to higher oversight on police officer’s actions. According to Walker (2007), the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994 gives the U.S. Department of Justice the legal mandate to institute a legal suit where allegations emerge that a law enforcement agency has abused the rights of citizens. The emergence of terrorism has radically transformed the way police officers fight crime. The links in terrorist organizations encompass intricate communication networks that use sophisticated communication techniques, making it difficult for police officers to track them down (Snow, 2010). In response to this, police officers are adopting networking and more collaboration with other security agencies such as the FBI. The advancement in technology has also affected the way police officers do their job.
Technology has greatly affected the way police officers do their job in many areas. In the last two decades, technological improvements have radically changed police communication and affected accountability. One of the major changes is adoption of computer technology to enhance investigations. Currently, police departments use computers for a variety of reasons including information sharing, records management, dispatch operations, crime investigation, and crime mapping and analysis. This has improved the efficiency of law enforcement agencies in tackling and preventing crime. The introduction of automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) enables police officers to identify suspects easily and to hasten the justice process. The development of information technology systems have improved sharing of data between departments. This has improved police function.
The advancement of modern technology has improved crime analysis function of police officers. Crime analysis utilizes modern technology to analyze data and solve issues, in addition to systematic techniques and methods that establish relationships between data other information sources. Crime analysis involves various functions such as crime mapping, network mapping, and identifying crime patterns (Koper et al., 2010). Technology has greatly improved safety of police officers. For instance, real-time sharing of information enables police officers to respond to emergency calls with the necessary caution. For example, an officer may receive information that a suspect is armed and dangerous. Technological advancements in vehicles used by police have improve police officers’ safety and their surveillance capabilities. For instance, police officers are increasingly carrying body-worn recording cameras, advanced firearms, flashlight, and among other items.
Technology has generally improved the effectiveness of police officers in their function. For instance, police officers currently use patrol cars equipped with sophisticated technologies – most have in-car cameras, multiband radios, RADAR devices, automated license plate readers, automated vehicle location, and other digital devices that improve the officers’ service delivery (Koper et al., 2010). Technology enables officers to acquire more information concerning suspects before confronting them. For instance, a police officer can be able to initiate queries from various databases to obtain information about a suspect. This makes the officers more knowledgeable and effective in their work. Police agencies have had to train officers to use computers and other devices in crime prevention. In some cases, police agencies contact specialists from outside to help in investigations involving complex technologies.
A number of administrative procedures and policies are in place to address the societal changes and advancement in technology. With regard to issues facing the media, law enforcement agencies are adopting the use of the internet as a dissemination channel for important information. In order to enhance public trust and accountability, police departments are retraining officers in accountability to ensure that their conduct is in accordance to the ethical codes of conduct outlined by the department. Public information officers are now using electronic newspapers to disseminate important information to the public (Braunstein, 2016). Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using social media platforms such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and other social media platforms to disseminate information to the public. With regard to terrorism, law enforcement agencies are embracing sharing of information or collaborations with other bodies in order to reduce the threat. Lastly, training is enabling police officers equip themselves with new skills and knowledge in technology.
There are a number of operational procedures meant to address the societal changes and advancement in technology. With regard to the changing face of media, some police departments are setting up social media accounts and websites dedicated to reaching out to the public. For instance in 2010, Philadelphia Police Department launched a Facebook page meant to enhance sharing of information with the public (Henton, 2013). In order to increase transparency and fulfill community expectations, law enforcement agencies are turning to modern technology. Various technologies such as use of body-worn recording cameras and in-car cameras improve accountability by ensuring that officers adhere to their department’s code of conduct. With regard to terrorism, law enforcement officers are pursuing terror suspects and bringing them to book. Police officers are also working on cutting the links to the sources of funds for various terrorist organizations and groups. This is by investigating banks and other commercial agencies involved in transfer of funds to such organizations.
Future administrative and operational decisions will have to consider the impacts of advancement in technology in the field of policing. Communications technology is undergoing radical changes, and thus there is great need for law enforcement agencies to improve the interoperability of their communication devices. There is need to improve the ability of law enforcement officers to transmit information to the public using the shortest time and receive information. Future administrative decisions will involve analyzing a variety of technologies to decide on the valuable and most cost effective technology to adopt.
Recruiting, Hiring and Training: There are significant changes in recruiting, hiring and training practices by the law enforcement agencies. In recruiting, law enforcement agencies have changed the qualification standards for potential recruits after realizing the former standards were high and locked out majority of potential recruits (Woska, 2016). For instance, the former qualification standards disqualified potential candidates on the basis past criminal conviction or record of drug use. Currently, a person convicted for minor felony and has since maintained a clean record is eligible for selection. Currently, police agencies and departments are providing incentives to applicants in order to increase the numbers. For instance, Texas is providing a bonus of up to $7,000 to applicants (Woska, 2016). Recruiting transitional workers leaving service in other sectors of the economy has become commonplace among police agencies. For instance, teachers who leave their profession early and others facing retrenching in other sectors are eligible to apply. Recruitment practices also involve enlisting the support of media to reach out to potential candidates.
Hiring practices have also changed considerably over time. Currently, hiring of applicants occur before the legal mandatory age for one to qualify as a police officer. The hires go through training whereby their graduation date coincides with the legal mandatory age for joining the police force. Currently, psychological tests are common for applicants wishing to join the force. Psychological testing ensures that the recruits are mentally stable to conduct the various roles associated with police officers. There is a gradual shift to hiring applicants with two or four year degrees, especially in higher positions (Miciag, 2015). This comes after the realization that there is need for highly educated officers in the force with a variety of skills. Most departments require officers to have completed a four-year degree program for promotion. Training practices currently go hand in hand with community needs.
Police officers receive training on various emerging issues such as authorization (community support, law, & professionalism), organizational design, technology, function, and the environment. Traditional training programs focused on teaching basic job skills such as shooting, emergency driving, state & federal laws, and arresting techniques. Modern training course for police officers involve more than just basic training (Braunstein, 2016). Police officers receive training on a variety of subjects including conflict resolution, communication, decision-making skills, and problem solving. Such training enables law enforcement officers to acquire better community policing skills.
Technology significantly affects law enforcement hiring and training practices. Law enforcement agencies currently use modern technology to pass information to potential applicants regarding the preferred candidates and their qualifications. Law enforcement agencies use the internet to pass information to the public in order to find potential applicants. Technology is also important in the selection process since it aids in the screening of applicants. For instance, technology enables medical examinations and drug tests on all applicants before they are eligible for service. Polygraph examinations are also common especially to applicants interested in higher positions. Polygraph examinations discourage rogue or corrupt officers from applying for higher positions. Modern technology is key in training officers and applicants. Currently, online learning is common especially for some topics that are theory-oriented. Delivery of certain topics such as keyboarding, constitutional law, cultural diversity, language and speaking skills occurs online to save on time and resources.
Law enforcement agencies can use a number of ways to modify their hiring and training techniques. First, there is need to review the current background checks conducted on potential applicants. There is need to conduct thorough background checks on all applicants in order to examine their history. Background checks should not only analyze the criminal record of an applicant, but also the past behavior. The current background checks emphasize more on criminal records and ignore the applicants’ behavioral aspects. For instance, applicants with a history of disrespecting the law or those who are dishonest should receive an automatic disqualification. Polygraph examinations are suitable in establishing the level of honesty. Modification of training techniques can focus on the course content – ethics training can be an important resource in reducing unethical behavior among officers (Woska, 2016). Frequent ethics training is key in helping reduce incidences of unethical behavior among officers. Ethics training enables officers to improve their moral reasoning skills.
Use of force: Three eras define the use of force by law enforcement officers in the U.S: the political era, progressive era, and the reform era. The political era is a period in the history of U.S. between 1840 (marking the appointment of first police officers) and 1930. Close ties between the police and politicians characterized this period. Law enforcement officers often received orders from politicians on what to do. Politicians interfered with policing hindering the fair and efficient administration of justice. The political party in authority felt immune to the justice system. Favoritism was also rife since those in leadership preferred giving law enforcement jobs to the less educated. During this period, reform movements surfaced but were highly ineffective against the well-organized politicians and police. This period is marked by police brutality and use of force. According to Walker (1984), police had little citizen respect and used physical force. Although walking the beats emerged during this period, community policing was ineffective since law enforcement officers received regular transfers.
The progressive era emerged during the 1920s and the 1930s. The progressive era was a period of heightened demand for social reform especially in the law enforcement sector (Hess, Orthmann, & Cho, 2012). The progressives were of the idea that the government’s core mandate is to improve the standards of living of everyone. The progressive movement contributed much to the professionalization of the police forces, and thus a break from traditional use of force. The work of investigative commissions was also instrumental in bringing changes to the use of force. In 1931, the Wickersham Commission produced a report detailing police officers’ excessive use of force. This report contributed greatly to the professionalization of the police in the U.S. An individual such as Wilson is notable in his contribution towards police reforms in the 1950s (Hess, Orthmann, & Cho, 2012). The 1960s saw increased reports of police violence against African Americans especially during ghetto riots. These problems were attributed racism and underrepresentation of African Americans in the police force.
The community era began in the 1980s. This period is a period of improved police service to citizens and adoption of appropriate reforms in the sector. A notable difference between community era and the progressive era lies in the nature of police response to crime. In the latter period, law enforcement officers embraced proactive policing (Hess, Orthmann, & Cho, 2012). In the 1980s, use of force was still common. In 1985, the Tennessee v. Garner ruling fundamentally changed the way police officers use force. The ruling requires police officers to use force in situation where they have reason to believe that the suspect is a threat to the officer himself and to others (AELE, 2007).
Technology can help improve the understanding of force by enabling law enforcement officers receive training on real life situations that they are supposed to employ force or restrain the same. For instance, Milford Police Department acquired a virtual use-of-force simulator designed to train police officers on actual confrontational situations with individuals. In the legal field, increased potential for civil liability has reduced the use of force by law enforcement officers. This includes the use of deadly force. Currently, law enforcement officers can only apply deadly force under circumstances where the suspect puts their life at risk or that of the public.
Service Delivery: Service delivery in law enforcement refers to the quality of services delivered by police officers as measured by customer satisfaction surveys or ratings. Measures of service deliver in law enforcement include response time of officers, problem resolution, officer attributes, and process-related elements (Witte, 2004). Response time is an assessment of the time duration taken by police officers to respond to emergencies. For example, the time taken by police officers to respond to a crime in progress determines their quality of service delivery. Problem resolution involves the ability of the police officers to solve problems and in a logical way. For instance, a police officer responding to claims of loud music may not necessarily make arrests. Officer attributes relate to the character of the officer. For example, people will judge a police officer based on whether he or she is caring, honest, polite, or patient. Process-related elements relates to various issues that may affect service delivery such as communication, feedback, follow-up, and others.
Changes in society have forced law enforcement agencies to address their service delivery efforts. In the recent past, there have been increased demands for accountability in police service delivery. Law enforcement agencies responded to such calls by requiring police officers to carry body-worn cameras. Police vehicles are also equipped with in-car video recorders that provide details of what transpires in the field. There is also a shift in society expectations from punishment offenders to providing them with the opportunity to change. Currently, the major role of law enforcement agencies has shifted from punishment of offenders to crime prevention and behavior modification. Currently, the society places emphasis on improved police service to citizens. In 1985, use of deadly force was outlawed through a court ruling, except in exigent circumstances. This has forced law enforcement agencies to change the way police officers conduct arrests. For instance, police officers are encouraged to use Tasers in situations where offenders refuse arrest.
Adjustment of service delivery efforts in future can occur through a number of ways. There is need to provide in-service training to officers in order to improve their skills and knowledge in various areas. Training can enable officers use minimal force while apprehending offenders. Use of analytic technologies has the potential to change service delivery among police officers. Use of analytics involves crime mapping techniques, reliance on intelligence data, and establishing criminal networks. This will enable police officers to predict or anticipate crime by focusing on crime hotspot areas. Adoption of modern technology remains pertinent to service delivery in the law enforcement sector. Lastly, police officers should increase collaboration with citizens and the private sector in order to improve service delivery.
Technology is fundamental in improving service delivery. Modern communication technologies have significantly improved officers’ response time. Individuals can easily access police departments by making emergency calls. Officers nearest to the scene of crime are then able move into the scene of crime. There is significant improvement in evidence gathering and thus solving of crimes. Modern technologies such as crime lights enable police officers collect DNA evidence at the scene of crime. Modern technologies such body-worn cameras and in-car video recorders deter police officers from engaging in unlawful acts such as collection of bribes.
In conclusion, societal changes will be a major driving force to law enforcement strategies in future. The society will increasingly rely on social media as a source of news and other information in media. As a result, law enforcement agencies will have to integrate fully social media as part of their core communication channels. As the society increasingly adopts new technologies, law enforcement agencies will have to provide continually in-service training to officers to enhance their service delivery. Calls for diversity and minority inclusion will see a higher number of African Americans and other races join law enforcement. In order to prepare for these societal changes, law enforcement agencies will need to fully engage or interact with citizens. Social engagements with the community will enable law enforcement agencies learn about new trends and be part of a dynamic society.
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