Body-worn tech trends improving police operations

From delivering real-time intelligence to biometric wearables that monitor a cop’s stress levels, body-worn technology is transforming police officer safety


Cops have come a long way from carrying a billy club and a sidearm. Today’s cop carries more advanced technology on their person than was used to send men to the moon in 1969. The average smartphone has more computing power in it than a room-sized, water-cooled IBM 360.

As PoliceOne covered here in 2018, entire “connected officer platforms” are available, which can include officer hit detection, officer-down detection and body-worn cameras with automatic activation upon gunshot detection or draw-from-holster. Body-worn cameras (BWC) can either record locally for offline playback or can live stream to one or more locations.

Traffic cameras and speed detectors have applications available that can send real-time information to officers, letting them take immediate action against violators.

Today’s cop carries more advanced technology on their person than was used to send men to the moon in 1969. (Photo/PoliceOne)
Today’s cop carries more advanced technology on their person than was used to send men to the moon in 1969. (Photo/PoliceOne)

As with everything your department purchases, you need to determine the missions your agency undertakes; what equipment you need to will support those missions; and how to source, deploy, manage, power and most importantly, update that equipment. Body-worn tech has one more wrinkle – you need to be concerned with officer-owned gear and if and how that gets deployed and managed.

Officer-owned body-worn tech

While many agencies already have policies in place that let officers purchase additional body armor, bleeding control kits and on- and off-duty firearms, the personal purchase and use of body-worn tech open a whole new can of worms.

Bring your own device, or BYOD, refers to employees using personal devices to connect to their organizational networks and access work-related systems and potentially sensitive or confidential data. The question that private enterprise has been dealing with for years is who owns the information on those smart devices, how is it managed and how is the data prevented from leaking out or being destroyed. Within law enforcement, the destruction of data on a personal device could lead to one or more cases being thrown out of court and possible criminal or civil action against your department or command staff.

While outside the scope of this article, the management of officer-owned smart devices is an important topic and something you need to consider before allowing their use. Unless and until you have a written smart device policy, you may want to source and assign agency-owned and managed devices to your officers. And because officers probably already are using either Android or iOS devices at home, it makes sense to source both types so that they don’t need to develop new muscle memory for their agency device. With good centralized management software, either type of device can be made secure enough for agency use.

Officer Safety

Smartphones and smartwatches can be linked to your CAD system to provide real-time status to all of your personnel, which can help lower response times and prevent blue-on-blue shootings by letting uniformed personnel know if undercover units are operating in the same area.

Additionally, location information and biometrics can be used to determine where an officer is and if they need assistance. Backup can be dispatched without waiting for a radio call if:

  • The sound of a gunshot is detected;
  • An officer draws their firearm;
  • An officer hit or officer down detector is triggered;
  • Heart rate increases above a specific level;
  • Atrial fibrillation or a fall is detected.

The officer’s BWC could be configured to start streaming upon any of these events so that dispatch can get a better handle on the situation. If a streaming BWC is showing the sky, you may have an officer down. Now think about sending the information directly to your CAD to notify the closest officers while providing the location and video to them while they are on their way.

Accident and crime scene investigation

Body-worn tech also can be used to capture details about an accident or crime scene while evidence is fresh.

Photos, location, direction and distance information all can be captured and stored to be uploaded to your records management system when the officer returns to the station. Multiple officers can divide the coverage of an accident or crime scene, letting them cover more ground in less time freeing them to get back to their regular duties sooner.

Through the use of advanced software, an entire scene can be built up in 3D to allow for reconstruction of the accident or crime, aiding your detectives in their investigation.

A major benefit of electronic records is the ability to prove provenance and chain of custody helping to prevent tampering and subsequent disqualification of evidence.

Pocket Drones

In a pursuit, active shooter or other situation, an officer might need an eye in the sky to get an overview of the area. While many agencies are training UAS (unmanned aerial systems) teams, they cannot be everywhere. Several companies are making small inexpensive drones that attach to a cell phone case and can be deployed to stream video back to the officer’s smartphone. These devices are inexpensive enough that if one is lost or is shot down by a suspect it can be replaced.

Summary

While the additions to the six-million-dollar man were internal, your officers are carrying more technology than Steve Austin could ever dream about. With the right mix of gear, software and configuration, body-worn tech can work together to help keep officers safe and make their jobs easier to do.

When selecting body-worn tech, ensure that each piece of equipment has a purpose and isn’t a burden to wear or use. Tech for the sake of tech might look tacticool but could put your officers in danger.

Many departments are moving from carrying everything from overloaded duty belts to load-bearing vests to lower the impact on an officer’s back and to make it easier to exit their vehicle or give pursuit if necessary. Remember to budget for equipment updates, either to replace the gear or to update the software that runs or manages it.

Before issuing a department-wide purchase order, think about running one or more pilot programs using different tech to see which works best in your own environment. What works well in San Francisco might be a disaster in Orlando. If you are looking at cellular technology, make sure that your carrier will guarantee coverage where you need it. 

Remember that a lot of tech needs power and that means evaluating whether or not it can survive a shift or if you need to make chargers or spare batteries available to an officer whether in a cruiser or on foot patrol. Loss of power at a critical juncture could be disastrous and officers may need to build muscle memory to keep that from happening by plugging in on a schedule.

With the right selection of gear along with the proper configuration and training, you can increase officer safety and help get everyone safely home to their families after every shift.

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