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December 18, 2012
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

2012 in Review: Top trends in police technology

Instead of discussing specific products, I think it’s more appropriate to list major categories of technology

My instant response to the assignment to write about the top technology developments of 2012 was to identify the most innovative gadgets and products that debuted this year. Experience has taught me that some products, no matter how well-conceived, never make it to market (witness the purpose-built cop car from Carbon Motors).

Instead of discussing specific products, I think it’s more appropriate to list major categories of technology that may have been around for a while, but were recognized and embraced this year as viable and an important addition to the gear locker.

So, in no particular order:

Body-worn Cameras
Self-contained video camcorders have been available for several years, but only recently has the technology gotten small, cheap and reliable enough for mainstreaming. The first dashcam recording systems started at around $1,500 in 1990 dollars ($2,500 in today’s money), and most of them cost a lot more.

Most of the bodycams on the market cost no more than $1000 per copy, and there aren’t any consumables to worry about other than a new battery every year or so. Even better, they go where the cop goes and see what he sees. Facial expressions and action that used to take place outside the dashcam frame is now recorded and preserved for evidence, and there are almost no moving parts to break.

These will eventually become as commonplace a part of an officer’s kit as his baton or flashlight.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
They’re still best known for anti-terrorist missions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but smaller drone aircraft are becoming part of the American police arsenal. Detractors claim they will be (or already are) armed and used against American citizens, ignoring this has yet to happen with other police aircraft after more than 50 years in service.

Instead, UAVs are used for surveillance to put eyes in the sky when such a vantage point wouldn’t be possible. Traditional aviation units are great assets, but they’re very costly.

A small quadricopter operable within line of sight can be had for a few thousand dollars, and a small airborne platform with an operational range similar to a conventional light helicopter will cost less than the manned version, and won’t require as much maintenance or as much training to fly.

The biggest barrier to widespread deployment is the refinement of FAA regulations for UAV flight over domestic soil, and that won’t be long coming.

Tablet Computers
When the iPad debuted, jokes referencing feminine hygiene products were in great supply, but it turned out to be one of Apple’s most successful and imitated gadgets.

Cloud technology, placing much of the data and some of the software off-platform, have made it possible for these devices to perform most of the same tasks as conventional computers, and it doesn’t hurt that most of them incorporate cameras and cellular network radios that allow them to work almost anywhere. Their batteries will endure for most of a duty shift.

They’re also cost-effective, with the low-end models available for less than $200. The laptop isn’t dead, but there are good reasons to consider another form factor for your next purchase.

FirstNet
This is the only vaporware item on the list, since FirstNet probably won’t be fully operational for 10 years or more. But, just as once-trendy cell phones have fully integrated into law enforcement and every other industry, a nationwide dedicated public safety network will be equally indispensable. Databases now available only over a hard line will be just as accessible on a mobile device.

Social Media
A few years back, only a few bold law enforcement agencies ventured to have any online presence beyond a generic web page. Now, most every outfit is on Facebook and Twitter, with slightly less enthusiastic participation on lesser networks like LinkedIn and Google+.

More than a few careers have come to an end, or never began, over ill-considered status updates. Like most powerful forces, it can do as much harm as good, but it’s not going to go away

Smartphones
Cell phones are great — sSmartphones are awesome. With a device smaller than a pack of cigarettes, you can replace both a still and video camera and recorder, a radio and video transceiver, a computer and media display, a music player, timers, reminders, books, newspapers and magazines, reference materials (that update continuously and automatically), and photo albums.

There are “apps” for every conceivable mental and some physical tasks. This year, sSmartphones outsold conventional cell phones for the first time.

Soon, a device that functions only as a wireless telephone will be as rare as a wired version with a rotary dial.

Cross-platform Synchronization
The blending and crossover of sSmartphones, tablets, and desktop and laptop computers along with the migration of data and software to “the cloud,” where it resides on some distant server, permits the unification of information and functions.
It’s rare to carry a separate copy of a reference file or application on a stand-alone drive when it’s not backed up and replicated remotely.

This level of continuous and ubiquitous information sharing helps to ensure that everyone gets the word in a timely fashion, something that is often critical in law enforcement. Now, if we could just get people to talk to each other more.

Telematics
Cars have gradually become so technically complex that the people who repair and maintain them are rightfully called “technicians” instead of “mechanics,” but it’s relatively recently that they became so closely integrated with our personal electronics.

Most every model of vehicle comes with an option package that automatically connects to your Smartphone and/or music player, and in some cases updates from your home or work Wi-Fi network.

GPS maps are as likely to be downloaded on the fly as carried on an internal drive or memory chip. Email, voicemails, and Facebook, and Twitter updates are read to you as you drive.

Distractions?

Yeah, that’s still a problem. 

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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