Has Computer Technology Enhanced Overall Efficiency of South Florida Law Enforcement Agencies Term Paper

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Criminal Justice

Computers and Their Effects upon Police Efficiency

Computer technology has transformed the modern day police department. Numerous systems now provide assistance in fields ranging from communication, to information storage and retrieval, and even allocation of personnel. Properly designed, computer applications save time and energy. They permit police officers to do the work they were hired to do - police. The various articles in this report both feature and support the use of computer technology in the law enforcement environment. In addition, the case study contained herein represents a real-time, and real-life analysis by policemen of these systems in action.

Computers and Their Effects upon Police Efficiency


Computers have brought major changes to virtually every facet of our world, and police work is no exception. From desktop computers in the station house, to laptop computers in police vehicles, a policeman's work is now as much affected by technology as a stockbroker's or an accountant's. Modern technology has now made it possible not only for individual officers to be linked together no matter where they might be, but also for different police departments to communicate with each other across the nation, and even across international borders if need be. Computers give police instant access to huge treasure-troves of information. With a few keystrokes, today's law enforcement officers can do background checks on suspects, look up the criminal records of people they've apprehended, and gain access to files that were previously buried somewhere in a basement or warehouse. As well, computers are an indispensable aid in the daily routine of the modern police department. Time consuming paperwork that once took up a significant part of a policeman's valuable time can now be completed quickly and almost effortlessly, thereby freeing police officer's for the work they were meant to do - fight crime. Even the investigative side of police work has been transformed by today's technology. A computer can instantly create a recognizable image of a suspect's face from a description supplied by a policeman or a crime victim. Computers can cross-check information at speeds previously unimagined. Truly, the computer is a wonderful new tool for law enforcement.

Time was when police work consisted primarily of an awful lot of legwork. "The cop on the beat" was most people's image of the typical police officer. The patrolman spend his days wandering back and forth over specific streets, his eyes peeled for any signs of suspicious activity. He worked alone, or perhaps with a partner, but in all cases, he was completely divorced from the rest of his department while e was out on the streets. His only communication with his brother officers, or with other good-natured citizens was by means of his own voice, or by use of the tin whistle that hung around his neck. Such lone policing meant many things, things that are virtually unimaginable today. Deprived of the instantaneous contact with his department to which we have all grown accustomed, the policeman faced a far more dangerous job than the one he now pursues. Each time he turned down a dark alley, or nudged his way into a blackened building, he put his life in imminent peril. Wandering the dark floors of some lonely warehouse, or walking the shadowed backstreets of a crime-ridden neighborhood, he ran the risk of some criminal lunging out at him. Unable to summon any help but that within earshot, he faced serious injury or worse. Luckily, the American policeman was at least armed, unlike his British counterpart. Still however, this variety of lone policing, cut off from his fellow officers, made much work impossible. A single policeman, or even a pair of policeman, would not dare to enter into a section of a city that might be controlled by a dangerous criminal gang. Such criminal organizations ran rampant, terrorizing ordinary citizens and police alike.

Yet, improvements were on the way. Technology early contributed to the policeman's effectiveness. As the telegraph and telephone transformed communication in the Nineteenth Century, so too, did the police call box help to make police work just that much safer and effective. The cop on the beat was now no longer truly alone as he walked the streets nightstick in hand. If need be, he could summon help from the nearest call box - a vital tool that linked him directly with the stationhouse. Following the call box's introduction in 1910, the technological innovations came even faster. First there was the police car, and then the radio, both of which devices further improved police efficiency. With the police car, the police officer could respond quickly to situations at a distance. In addition, the vehicle shielded him from ill-intentioned marauders. He was no longer purely at the mercy of his own strength when it came to entering dangerous areas or escaping from potentially deadly situations. One must remember, that even the mounted policeman was exposed to similar hazards to his pedestrian counterpart. A horse could be frightened, overtaken, or even shot.

Though large and cumbersome at the beginning, the police radio proved invaluable once it made its appearance in the police car. Though initially allowing only one-way communication - that is between the station and the police car - even this brought about a considerable change in the way the policeman conducted his work. Now, a complainant could appear in person at the stationhouse, or even telephone the stationhouse, and the sergeant on duty could take the call and then immediately radio his men out in the field. In these cases, the radio proved a lifesaver both for policemen and for crime victims. Not only was response time vastly reduced, but the chances of apprehending the criminals were increased as well. Police cars could now rush to the scene of a crime, having more than ever before, the opportunity of reaching the scene either while the criminal act was still in progress, or before the perpetrators had the chance to escape far away.

Later still, the introduction of the two-way radio enabled the officer in the field to radio back reports on conditions in his area. Not only could he call for reinforcements where necessary, but he could also give his superiors clues as to how to deploy their resources. A quiet night in one area, could free up men to be sent to another location. Perhaps most importantly of all, the two-way radio made the cop on the beat, for the first time, the eyes and ears of a single, united organization. The patrolman could now act like the feelers of the central organization. Investigations and emergency operations could now be conducted from a central command post, a point where the best brains, and most skilled policemen directed street-level operations. Every officer now had direct access to headquarters and all its files and personnel. Additionally, radio and telephone revolutionized national policing. The criminal who managed to get out of town one step ahead of the police no longer had an advantage because of his head start. Telephones, telegraphs, and radio were faster than any train or automobile. A wanted man could step off a train at a point hundreds of miles away and have the local police waiting for him, handcuffs in hand. Information on a criminal's activity in distant parts of the country, or even overseas, could be swiftly relayed to a station anywhere, thus providing local officers with much needed information.

Nor were new technologies limited to communications and transportation. So seemingly simple a device as the typewriter made police work far easier than it had been in the days of the stick pen or the fountain pen. Typed records meant records that were easy to read, and records that could be produced and reproduced much more rapidly than in the past. The copying machine, when it came in, further speeded up the production and transmission of files. Originals could be safely kept in one spot. There was no longer the necessity of risking losing them by sending them out to a distant department, or else laboriously copying them out by hand. More significantly, graphic images - fingerprints, mug shots, and the like - could be re-transmitted exactly as they were. And one should certainly not underestimate the impact of these two new technologies. No two inventions probably had a greater effect on modern day police work than photography and fingerprinting. With the coming of the photograph, police now had a definitive record of a criminal's appearance. No longer was there the need to rely on verbal or written descriptions, or haphazard sketches. Crime victims could peruse the books filled with mug shots, and so more easily identify their attackers and suspected perpetrators.

While not strictly speaking a form of technology, fingerprinting however, along with many other forms of forensic investigation, revealed the growing alliance between police work and science. A fingerprint provided an absolute, and unique, identifier for every single person arrested and booked. The cataloguing of the different forms of these prints, the ridges and…[continue]

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