The New World of Digital Policing
It’s not your father’s police. You’re on camera. Predictive programs target crime. AI is applied to obtain new insights. What’s next: android cops? Uh, they’re here!
My dad was a cop almost all his life. He started when the “Dragnet” TV series was popular. For a good part of his career he rode a big Harley Davidson Electra Glide motorcycle In Buffalo, N.Y., even in the winter. He was big and tough just like you would imagine a cop would be. He’s been gone from us for some time now but I can’t help thinking about how he would view policing today compared to how he did it for some thirty years.
Back then, police technology was a nightstick, a gun, handcuffs and a Motorola radio the size of a shoebox on the back of his cycle. Today, like in every other part of our society, digital technologies powered by the cloud are working their way into how we police.
Digital cameras worn by officers are in the public eye with the high profile shootings that sadly dominate our news. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 95% of the country’s police departments are planning to implement body cameras; 20% already have. This always hasn’t gone down well with all the cops on the beat but a 2016 study conducted by researchers at Cambridge University links body-cam usage to a 93% reduction in complaints against officers.
One of the challenges with body cams is the vast amount of data they create. Video takes up a lot of storage space, as anyone who has shot some on their smartphone knows. Imagine your phone camera running for hours a day and then imagine that across hundreds or thousands of officers in a police department. Plus, this is not ordinary data. It needs to be archived in a controlled fashion in case it is required as evidence.
Here’s where cloud comes in. Exhibit A: Evidence.com is a storage service offered by Axon (formerly Taser) a major provider of body-cams, stun guns and police apps. Originally using Amazon Web Services but now Microsoft’s Azure cloud it provides storage capacity at rates up to $79/mo. per officer.
Cameras are just a part of the digital revolution sweeping over police departments. Companies PredPol and Hunchlab design algorithms to find trends in police data, which can be used for predictive policing. Startups like Babel Street, Dataminr, and Geofeedia build social media monitoring software that helps police scan accounts for keywords during a major event or around a specific location.
Artificial Intelligence too, is entering police work. In the UK an AI system assists officers in determining whether to place a suspect in custody. Trained on years of prior decisions and their outcomes, the new AI is remarkably accurate in determining whether a suspect is high or low risk and hence needing incarceration.
We can only expect to see more of these data driven and computer mediated processes to permeate our police and judicial system in the future. But, what about help in the physical world for the cop on the beat? Data is great but sometimes you need some extra muscle on the scene.
How about a bullet shaped 400 pound six foot tall robot called K3 from a new company, Knightscope? Designed to supplement guards in public and private spaces this robot is an illustration of machine intelligence made into a policing machine. In total, Knightscope plans to service 17 clients in 16 cities across five states by the end of 2017.
Prefer something a little more humanoid? Dubai plans for an android police force this year. “We’re expecting for it to be in tourist areas at first in 2017, near Burj Khalifa, GPR, City Walk and by 2020 we want to have a more thorough area covered,” Dubai Police’s Technical Innovations Department Head Major Adnan Ali said.
Policing can be a dangerous business and we want cops to be safe. We all want crime to be low or non-existent yet the relationship between the police and citizenry can be fragile or counterproductive. Now we have digital tools, with more coming, to assist in meeting these complex societal needs. Next time, if you are a victim or a witness, there is a good chance when you are talking to officer friendly he or she will be backed up by lots of smart machines.
By John Pientka