Digital technology has helped revolutionize law enforcement in many ways over the past several years. The ability to collect and analyze DNA has led to the release of nearly 400 wrongly convicted individuals in the United States, incarcerated for crimes they did not commit and has led to identification and arrest of actual perpetrators. There are several additional digital aides that continues revolutionizing law enforcement. Newer digital aides assist in crime scene and forensic evidence collection and analysis, aids in law enforcement investigations, protects law enforcement officials and can even predict when and where crimes may happen in the future.
Digital evidence is crucial to law enforcement
With the explosion of social media, law enforcement found itself needing to develop techniques for training personnel in recognizing the potential importance of social media data in crimes, particularly in investigation and as possibly being critical in the prosecution of a suspect when presented as evidence in court. Law enforcement officers have had to be trained in the proper collection, handling, maintenance and preservation of digital evidence.
JUSTNET, “The website of National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center” describes digital evidence as being “information stored or transmitted in binary form that may be relied on in court.” JUSTNET further explains that although digital evidence was initially used in the prosecution of e-crimes such as credit card crimes or child pornography, digital evidence is now used in all types of criminal prosecution. Email or social network messages, cell phone calls, texts and files are just some basic ways that social media can be used in criminal prosecution.
Digital evidence can be generated in several ways in addition to social media. Digital cameras, for instance, generate an electronic data file, as opposed to older film cameras in which many actual pictures were taken and stored in the collection of evidence.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says in “Digital Evidence,” that “In an age of terrorism, suspects could go free if personnel do not properly document and save the digital image of the criminal acts.” Hazardous materials response teams and a bomb squad using bomb x-rays both generate electronic readings which the FBI says can be exported by the use of a digital cable or memory card.
Law enforcement officers must be thoroughly trained in the preservation of all digital evidence so it can be properly presented in court. It is imperative that if possible, a back-up copy of the digital evidence be made and stored in a secure location, just as the actual digital evidence itself. Proper chain of custody must always be maintained when digital evidence is collected in any crime.
Digital aides help law enforcement to locate criminals and rescue innocent individuals
The National Vehicle Location Service (NVLS) is a database available to law enforcement agencies for free. Since it was launched in 2010, several hundred law enforcement agencies have implemented License Plate Reader (LPR) technology. Police and Security News explains that the technology, while available to every law enforcement agency free of charge, requires that LEA’s opt in to the shared technology, which boasts 185 million vehicle location records and 23 million new locations being added each month.
LPR technology has the capability of managing detection records which consists of the vehicle description, license plate image, location data, date and time stamp as well as other information. The Hot List is information pertaining to “vehicles of interest,” while Hit Records are detection records which have been matched to Hot List records.
Law enforcement agencies can determine how their data is accessed and shared with other agencies.
LoJack technology was responsible for two law enforcement agencies hundreds of miles away from each other rescuing two kidnapped children and an elderly man. Two-year old and seven month old boys were kidnapped by the non-custodial father of the youngest child in Burien, Washington, who took off in the mother’s vehicle. The mother informed officers her vehicle was equipped with LoJack Stolen Vehicle Recovery System technology. Utilizing LoJack technology, law enforcement officials were able to track down the vehicle and capture the suspect.
Across the country in Marshfield, Maine, police used LoJack SafetyNet technology to locate an 82 year-old man suffering from Alzheimer’s who had wandered from home. Police followed the signal and located him half a mile away, where he had become entangled in a marshy area of a river bank.
Mobile command centers are vital
The mobile command center vehicle brings the latest communications and other technology to law enforcement. One example of how the mobile command center benefits law enforcement is demonstrated by the new mobile command center put into action by the Boston Police Department in March, 2012. With space for up to 18 law enforcement personnel, the mobile command features all touch-screen digital technology both inside and outside the center. It features five TV monitors, satellite and cellular phone systems, cellular router, satellite dish, stand-up work stations, modulated video system, matrix switcher, and other technology in addition to other features such as customs firearms storage. While the Boston Mobile Command Center Vehicle is 36 feet long, other law enforcement agencies may find that a different design or size command center will better suit their agency needs.
Using geospatial technology or crime mapping to predict future crime
In cities with high levels of gang activity, with an increase of certain types of crimes or even to discover where one individual elusive suspect may be located, crime mapping technology can be of significant benefit to law enforcement. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has created three different geospatial applications which law enforcement as well as corrections agencies can utilize on a daily basis. CrimeStat III is describes as a “spatial statistical program” which analyzes locations of crimes which have occurred and then identifies “hot spots.” The program can also track an offender’s behavior over time and estimate a serial offender’s place of residence.
FacilityCop is used inside jails and prisons to map, record and analyze crimes occurring within the institution. The School Crime Operations Package or School COP allows for the mapping and analysis of crimes occurring in and around schools. With School COP not only can juvenile delinquency be investigated, but it can enforce safety and allow for planning of violence prevention initiatives. There are other crime mapping technology programs as well.
Predicting exactly when and where crime is likely to occur is no longer a far-fetched idea, but a reality that has been implemented with much success.
Digital aides have revolutionized communications, investigations, evidence identification, collection and preservation, location of stolen vehicles, criminal suspects and endangered individuals, as well as created mobile command centers. Digital aides may be used in small town police departments or large federal law enforcement agencies. The type of digital aides utilized by law enforcement will depend upon the needs as well as available budget for implementing digital aides within specific law enforcement agencies.