- Posted July 18, 2014 by
A look at the tech behind modern law enforcement
According to online resources, American policing tracing its roots from earlier British influences who in turn can trace their origins back to the Norman conquest of the England in 1066 A.D. If we fast forward to 2014, we can clearly see a lot has changed.
Early American settlers found themselves having to “keep the peace” in early colonies. Debtors languished in a “stock” on the main street, hands and head bound in the wooden contraption served to shame a debtor publically. These early “justices of the peace” soon found out that they need a more organized and proactive type of law enforcement.
The genesis of the police movement started in 1636 in Boston, MA when they established a night watch patrol. New York would follow in 1651 with a “Shout and Rattle” watch. These were designed to cover an entire city and not just focus on specific crime-ridden area. In 1705, the city of Philadelphia developed the concept of “patrol” when they implemented ten such patrol routes across the city. The 1800’s saw the further development of police departments who then formed day and night patrol shifts.
With the implementation of the automobile, police began leaving their horses and buggies and starting equipping early automobiles with lights and sirens. A radio was later added as communications technology became more prevalent. This allowed patrol officers on the street to be able to communicate more effectively with their base of operations.
Today’s law enforcement represents a stark contrast in technology compared with their counterparts from decades past.
The modern police officer typically drives a vehicle that is more powerful, more fuel efficient and far more dependable than vehicles of the past. They are also considerably safer to drive.
Locally, Deer Park’s Police Department represents the modern face of law enforcement. With the latest patrol vehicles equipped with a bevy of devices including computer and radio communications, GPS and video cameras, there has never been a time in policing when officers have had this much technology at their disposal. “Things have changed dramatically,” said Sgt. Brown. He says today’s in-car technology can do everything from run criminal backgrounds, to pulling driver’s license photos and fingerprints, mapping patrol routes and also GPS to help pinpoint locations; all at the touch of a button. “There is so much we can do from the car now,” he says.
There has been a push over the last decade to move from cars like the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria and Chevrolet Caprice to larger sport utility vehicles like Ford’s Expedition and Chevrolet’s Tahoe. Brown says as the amount of equipment officers use grows, the need more room to store and cool the new gear becomes more evident. “The SUV offers a little more convenience, a little more comfort so we have the extra room to put that stuff in there.”
It’s not just the inside of the newer vehicles that are jam-packed with video cameras, computers and radio gear but outside of the cruiser as well. In addition to the light bars, which are now mostly LED-powered for their efficiency and luminescence, there are light bars along the lower door panels, and on the rear of the vehicles for added visibility and safety. There are also vehicles that are equipped with infrared cameras to help locate suspects at night. There are “Plate Scan” devices that can scan license plates of nearby vehicles and search for stolen vehicles, amber alert suspects and those who outstanding warrants.
It’s not just the police cruiser that has seen the evolution of technology but also the police officer’s uniforms themselves. Centuries along, early police officers had their brawn and maybe a nightstick to defend them and subdue criminals. Today, officers carry state-of-the-art weapons including pistols, Tasers, pepper spray, collapsible batons, etc. To protect themselves from a suspect with a gun, officers have newer, lighter bulletproof vests that offer more protection than earlier models and more comfort for all-day use.
Looking to the future, Brown says one trend in law enforcement that is gaining traction is “predictive policing.” Basically, this technology takes crime stats for a given area over a certain period of time and hypothesizes potentially criminal activity based on those statistics and patterns of criminal behavior in the area. “The technology is relatively effective,” says Brown. A more advanced-and-yes-fictionalized version of predictive policing is front and center in the 2002 thriller “Minority Report” which stars Tom Cruise. In that movie, Cruise is a police officer in the year 2054. He is a member of the “Pre-Crime” branch of law enforcement which uses technologies of the day in order to predict crime before it happens, throwing into question a person’s “freewill” to make their own decisions.