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Cutting edge technology and crime

By Allen Koehn - posted Tuesday, 21 October 2008


Popular television series in the US and here in Australia, celebrate the use of cutting-edge technology to solve serious crimes. In the perfect world created by these shows’ writers forensic police use an impressive mix of seemingly “high tech” modern forensic computing systems, CCTV, biometrics, DNA scanners - and a little creative license - to solve murders in record time.

Most people would believe that the program story lines are a bit far-fetched. But believe it or not, these portrayals of policing provide a glimpse of the advanced tools police could be using in the future. Many of the tools are in use today and have been successfully implemented around the world.

Police services are cautious about moving too quickly towards trialling new technology as there are strong disciplines around consistent and time-honoured evidence gathering police procedures - and for good reason. After all, the evidence needs to stand up in court.

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A priority of any government is to maintain the highest possible levels of police visibility and responsiveness for managing and responding to emergencies and breaches of the law, and to ensure continued community confidence and trust. So there is always pressure to spend the greatest proportion of any budget allocation on training, recruitment, retention and traditional tools used by police, including weapons, vehicles and communications equipment.

These days, however, governments and law enforcement agencies the world over are realising that technology can provide police with new weapons for law enforcement and crime prevention and can also help to serve their communities better. There is also a wider community expectation that police services are utilising the most capable and cutting edge means at their disposal to ensure that community safety is protected.

In the past 12 months in Australia, a range of technologies such as in car computers, biometric-based face recognition systems, handheld fingerprint scanners, surveillance and watch-list matching, and GPS vehicle locaters have been rolled out within various police jurisdictions.

In April last year, the Victorian government announced it would spend $3.4 million on face recognition technology to help police match faces with security footage or identikit images from police databases. In May this year, it was reported that police in Geelong, Victoria would consider new ID scanner security technology that allows them to warn venues of troublemakers loitering at the city’s night spots.

GPS satellite technology will soon be used to map every breath test conducted in Queensland to help police identify drink driving black spots. New South Wales Police is also considering adopting a simple email or “e-policing” system that alerts residents of crimes occurring in their local area, and asks them to become more active in fighting crimes in their communities. E-policing is already being used by some of the largest police forces in the world to combat crime, including the Los Angeles Police Department in the US.

A Call Center system, now in use in the US and the UK, helps to take the pressure off already stretched police resources. The system allows people to get fast and easy access to “non-emergency” information and services, effectively freeing up police resources dedicated to deal with those situations that require an immediate response.

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All these examples highlight the increasing use of technology in law enforcement, and also its potential in a range of different ways to help police organisations provide a better service overall.

According to a recent report in The Guardian, CCTV cameras in the UK aren’t preventing crime. Only 3 per cent of street robberies in London were solved with the assistance of CCTV cameras. The use of CCTV images for court evidence had also been poor, the report said.

However, this report ignored two issues. First, that CCTV has been in place for many years and newer installations today go well beyond passive monitoring. Today a holistic approach to security using CCTV can provide a much more proactive and predictive capability, particularly when used alongside intelligent surveillance, face-in-the-crowd imaging and tracking, and building in the capacity for integrated human and other analytics in the surveillance process.

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About the Author

Allen Koehn is Managing Partner, Public Sector, Unisys Asia Pacific.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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