Over the past few years, community policing has been transformed by advancements in policy technology. We look at how officers are leveraging technology for community policing, and what other tools are available to enhance the safety of communities.
If someone from the 1990’s time-traveled to today and saw a modern police officer, they might think they had landed on the set of a science fiction movie. Not only do police officers dress differently from 25 years ago, but they are also adorned with gadgetry that could only have been imagined in the days of Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues.
From especially-adapted Google Glasses to handheld fingerprint scanners and translation devices, community police officers are leveraging technology to get real-time information about the properties they pass and people they see. Tools like slimmer smartphones have replaced bulky PDAs, and feed community officers with critical information to help them better serve and protect communities. Here’s a look at how these technological advancements are being used for community policing.
The Role of Social Media in Community Policing
Smartphone technology helps community officers better engage with communities, especially through social media platforms such as Facebook. Social media has also played a significant role in gathering intelligence. There have been a number of cases in which information relayed via Facebook, Twitter or YouTube has resulted in crimes being prevented or successful prosecutions. However, an issue with social media is that it is full of “noise” - unrelated commentaries that have to be filtered out before useful data can be extracted.
To overcome this issue, several police departments have introduced anonymous tip texting platforms. These dedicated platforms enable residents to anonymously report crimes and safety concerns via SMS. Community officers can view the tips on their smartphones via a web-based console, and respond to the resident in real time if further information or required or if the resident needs assistance. Anonymous tips can also be collated at a command point for analysis and future community policing planning.
Better Information Results in Safer Communities
The adoption of Google Glasses by police departments in the United States has been limited due to the cost of the devices and privacy concerns; and whereas body cameras are appropriate substitutes in some circumstances, a more acceptable solution is a communications management platform that integrates with the Smart911 system. Smart911 provides 911 dispatchers with detailed information about residents making emergency calls that can then be forwarded to community officers when they respond.
One of the benefits of the Smart911 system is that it not only provides information about the caller's identity, but depending on what data has been entered by the caller, can also include information such as floor plans to their property, the best access points to their property and the location of utility cut off points. The caller's Safety Profile can also include information such as health and mobility issues, which can be used by community officers to best respond to the emergency on their arrival.
Keeping Communities Safe with Accelerated Alerts
One of the ways in which community officers can be fed critical information via their smartphones is with a safety alert system. This is a key tool for discretely alerting community officers to an emergency to better manage an incident and prevent panic among residents. Although the system is more commonly used for mass notification, it has a facility to send urgent messages to just key personnel and supports two-way communication for better situational awareness.
So, whereas community police officers may look much different from what they did twenty-five years ago, it is what you cannot see - rather than what you can - that is making a difference to how police departments serve and protect our communities today. New technologies are certainly making a difference to the safety of our communities, but many of the changes are attributed to smartphone apps that can gather intelligence, access data and better manage emergencies.