Innovations in Database Communication Technologies for Law Enforcement
The proliferation of computer, digital and web technology have all had a significant impact on how civil and public administration functions are performed. The ability to engage in real-time communication through an array of media, the opportunity to access enormous databases of information from the field and the capacity to capture sound, video, photo and other data all have enhanced productivity, efficiency and sophistication in many fields of great sociological importance. Certainly, few functions of public administration are more important than law enforcement and the administration of justice. Here, we consider some of the technological innovations in computer databasing that have had a direct impact on the way that police officers perform their job responsibilities with a specific focus on the enhanced communication opportunities emerging in the field.
Mobile Data Terminals and Facial Recognition:
Both Mobile Data Terminals and Facial Recognition Technology have become ever-more common tools in the law enforcement arsenal. Each is a technology which incorporates the storing of data and the use of wireless transmission of said data in order to improve the accuracy, expedience and fairness of police work. To this end, Mobile Data Terminals have become an extremely important part of traffic law and the pursuit of fugitive perpetrators. Mobile Data Terminals are essentially computerized monitor or tablet devices inbuilt to all squad cars, connecting every officer in the country to a shared network of information on citizens, perpetrators and others. According to Monopoli (1996), this technology began to take shape in law enforcement in the early 80s, ultimately becoming a standard tool for 'running license plate numbers,' identifying stolen vehicles and keeping officers abreast of All Points Bulletins and emergency management information.
According to Monopoli, this is a technology which remains in an ongoing state of evolution. Monopoli indicates that "A statewide mobile data network with the capacity of 5,000 devices began in 1992. The current trend in mobile computing involves the use of pen technology to enable officers to complete incident and accident reports in the field using full-function computers. . . . Digital cameras are also currently available that will integrate with notebook and pen-based computers and allow the attachment of photo images to incident or accident reports in the field. Police officers of the future will probably be able to use a combination of technologies to handle diverse tasks." (Monopoli, p. 1)
In addition to the conveyance of verbal data, technologies have become increasingly focuses on providing officers with multimedia database instruments. Indeed, one of the traditional functions of law enforcement over the course of its modern evolution has been its capacity to identify members of the citizenry, whether victims, missing persons, suspects or known perpetrators. Fingerprinting and the distribution of Driver's Licensing have historically served as necessary biometric instruments for identifying members of the population. Increasingly though, digital and photographic technologies are allowing for yet more extensive tools for identifying subjects. The use of facial recognition technology has informed new opportunities that significantly supplement traditional biometric tools. As the text by Hess (2010) indicates, facial recognition can provide crucial support in identifying individuals where other biometric indicators are lacking. As Hess reports, "while fingerprints assure higher rates of accuracy than face recognition can, facial recognition provides benefits when fingerprint data does not exist, is not easily shared between agencies, or when multiple independent verification methods are desired." (Hess, p. 1)
Especially at a time when law enforcement security concerns include preventative measures against potential acts of terrorism, ever-higher incidences of identity theft and increasingly porous international borders in an era of globalization, the ability to incorporate facial recognition into the arsenal of crime-fighting instruments at the disposal of law enforcement agencies. As the article by Hess points out, certain modes of facial recognition have always been used in the field of crime-fighting and law enforcement. The police line-up, in which the suspected perpetrator is presented to a witness or victim along with a group of other individuals with similar features, is a mode of perpetrator identification which relies on some degree of facial recognition in order to maintain a balance of justice and fairness.
Positive Effect of New Technologies:
Certainly, among the advantages of integrating improving technologies into a scheme for law enforcement is the enhanced ability which this provides law enforcement agencies to establish and maintain contact with the communities that they serve. The data-basing opportunities created for the compilation of information regarding useful community contacts, agencies and organizations have been expanded with the insertion of web-ready computer access into everyday enforcement and security strategies. According to Wallace & Roberson (2009), community relations is increasingly seen as an important avenue for creating networks of informed citizenry, vigilant neighborhood groups and highly engaged police officers. Additionally, Wallace & Roberson indicate that this has been largely facilitated by the integration of mass media such as television or radio and data-basing that is both bound to the web and that is internal to any given department. According to Wallace & Roberson, "The area of community relations is gaining more importance in police work. A computer may assist the department by allowing users to update speaking schedules and to maintain lists of community associations and citizens who work with the department to solve community issues." (p. 319)
This denotes that one of the primary advantages to employing evolving communication and information technologies is that it can significantly ease and improve the manner in which officers engage traditional crime-fighting methods. In this case, the omnipresent demand for officers to be an active part of a functioning community may actually be accommodated by the presence of new and always improving databasing technologies. For instance, the use of more effective facial recognition can help to ensure that officers can identify and engage perpetrators without resorting to more randomized and potentially invasive methods of providing community or neighborhood safety and protection. The insertion of certain algorithms into the process of identifying perpetrators helps to reduce some of the human error which is always a potential matter of concern in law enforcement. According to Weiss & Davis (2005) "Facial recognition technology makes use of unalterable features of a face, such as the distance between the centers of the pupils of the eye. It then uses an algorithm, a finite set of steps for solving a problem, which converts the image to numbers. The software program is then able to compare the digital photograph of a face with others in the database and bring up matches in gallery format, with the most likely match first. The officer or deputy then decides which of the matching images, if any, are of the person in question." (p. 1) This helps to reduce the threat of false identification.
Negative Effect of New Technologies:
One potential negative effect of the new technologies now at the disposal of law enforcement personnel is the danger that more perceptive instruments may lead to more invasive police officer tactics. From a civil liberties perspective, facial recognition technologies have historically been vulnerable to exploitation. This is implicated by such theories as that offered by Bertillon, who, according to Hess, would use facial recognition as a way to may certain presumptions and classifications of individuals. According to Hess, "in order to recognize individuals who were repeatedly arrested, Bertillon developed means by which portraits could be sorted by common morphological characteristics -- the specific shapes of the different parts of the face -- and thus an individual's prior photo could be found without having to resort to browsing through large collections of portraits. This classification is known as the 'portrait parle' or spoken portrait." (Hess, p. 1)
This type of extrapolation based on physical features strikes the reader as an early forerunner to profiling, which uses ethnic and racial features in determining such routine law enforcement acts as stop-and-frisks, traffic stops and license-plate running. As revelations of widespread racial bias in racial profiling have emerged in the last two decades, it is clear that such profiling can contribute directly to institutional prejudices and the reinforcement of ethnically driven legal hierarchies. That such profiling would open the door to this type of sociological abuse lends to the concern that greater reliance of facial recognition technologies could, in addition to enhancing the ability of officers to identify perpetrators, lead to yet a more sophisticated brand of racial profiling.
Incidentally, this is not a concern that can be limited to the discussion on facial recognition. In fact, this has also become a significant concern where the use of Mobile Data Terminals is considered. According to the article by Cedres (1997), the connection between this crime-fighting instrument and the capacity for police officers to monitor, observe and engage ordinary citizens makes this yet another potential avenue to illicit profiling. That officers now have such extensive databased information at their immediate disposal is irreplaceably valuable in both forensics and the accomplishment of field work. However, as Cedres notes, the combination of this powerful tool…