The Spring 2015 issue of the FOP Journal covered high-tech developments that are making waves in law enforcement. Here are some of the up-and-coming tools and techniques likely to have agencies buzzing in the near future.
GPS for Guns
Locational technology is already a hit for tracking stolen items or fleeing vehicles. But did you know that it can also be used to pinpoint the exact location where a gun was fired? That’s what ShotSpotter, a firearm-detecting system, does. ShotSpotter relies on GPS technology to triangulate a gunshot’s location by using square-shaped acoustic sensors installed in inconspicuous areas and an algorithm based on the speed of sound. The detailed information can then travel directly to a squad car’s laptop, allowing officers to pursue the shooting suspect in a matter of moments. According to an Hour Detroit Magazine article, the Saginaw Police Department in Michigan has used ShotSpotter since 2009 with tremendous results. Police departments in the major metro areas of Hartford, Connecticut, and Denver, Colorado, have also implemented ShotSpotter.
Facial Recognition Software
Civil liberty worries aside, biometric identification — based on the distinctive, measurable characteristics unique to individuals, such as DNA, voice recognition and retinal scans — will be an increasingly sought-after technology at the local policing level throughout the country. Facial recognition software is the leading investigative tool of the biometric bunch. Essentially, it measures a person’s face, the space between their eyes, the size of their cheeks and the shape of their nose, and compares that information with the millions of other images previously collected.
The Washington Post reported last year that 37 states were using facial recognition software in their driver’s license registries, and at least 26 allow state, local or federal law enforcement agencies to use it to search — or request searches — of photo databases in an attempt to learn the identities of people who may be relevant to criminal investigations.
The Raleigh Police Department is the first agency in North Carolina to use facial recognition software, launching a one-year test program in September 2014. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s facial recognition system, called the Next Generation Identification program, also became fully operational in September.
Cracking a password-encrypted cellphone takes time, money and manpower. Sure, sometimes you get lucky with a 1-2-3-4 password, but there are usually lots of investigative hoops to jump through before you can even get your hands on a suspect’s phone. That’s why at least 15 states, including Florida and Minnesota, use cell site simulators, also known as “stingrays,” to track targeted phones and intercept calls and text messages. Stingrays trick the suspect’s cellphone into transmitting its data and identifying information, thereby drastically reducing investigative hours. Police still need to get a warrant to operate a stingray.
These cell site simulators will be under increasing scrutiny by privacy advocates in the coming year, but as long as law enforcement agencies are happy with the results, this technology is probably here to stay.
For more information on technologies for the next age of law enforcement, check out “Tech Trends 2015” in the Spring 2015 issue of the Journal.