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Law Enforcement Technology and Inherent Dangers

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Law Enforcement Technology and Inherent Dangers

Brian C. Kennedy

University of Phoenix


Crystal Wagoner

24 May 2014


Modern Law Enforcement agencies, much like their earlier counterparts must constantly evolve to match technological advances that not only make Policing more efficient, but can make crime commission easier as well. Advances in computer technology that aids in forensic science and criminal investigation can also be the same technology that creates an environment for fraud and online child victimization. As Law Enforcement expands to include the realm of homeland security responsibilities, these technologies take on a global perspective. As with any technology, overreliance on the latest gadget or trend can be risky if that technology fails.

Crime Fighting Technology

With the advent of global positioning and computer aided satellite dispatch, line officers have faster access to vital information at a faster rate than in years past. Gone are the days that the typical officer must rely on a dispatcher to check for a warrant or run a vehicle registration as the computer installed in their vehicle likely has the capability. Reports can now be written in the field by using the laptops touch screen or keyboard and directly filed before the officer ends his or her shift.

The danger lies in the reliance on the technology when it fails. Police officers are nothing more than a sampling of the general population in regards to the variances and norms of today’s educational system. The widespread use of computers in schools and technology embedded inside smart phones has allowed students to write free of the need for adequate spelling and grammar skills. In the days of typewritten or even handwritten reports, Officers had to know how to assign proper grammar and spelling as there was no spell-check other than a reference dictionary. When the technology fails, it becomes evident that these skills are lacking among Police officers just as much as the rest of society.

The advent of DNA processing has greatly enhanced the art and science of criminal investigation. It has even gone so far as to remediate mistakes made in prior criminal investigations when there has been a wrongful conviction and incarceration.

This DNA boon, so to speak, has resulted in the “CSI effect” among potential jurors in modern times. Popularized by the hit television franchise CSI, CSI Miami and CSI New York, DNA is now perceived to be available at every turn in every imaginable way by the general public. Undue expectations of investigators, crime scene techs and forensic scientists have been levied by jurors used to seeing DNA processed and extracted in the back of an SUV in five minutes.

Additionally, some might argue that now, more than ever, a line law enforcement agent is micromanaged like never before. The discretion and autonomy once enjoyed by patrol officers has been lost to GPS monitoring and accounts of traffic stops recoded by camera and microphone. This is a double edged sword as these technologies also act as an insurance policy against accounts of wrongdoing or excessive force used during an encounter or complaints about response time.

With the added efficiency of technology always comes a price and unintended consequences. Be it computer reliance, lofty expectations resulting from embellished accounts of crime fighting abilities or just plain having more work generated as a result of increased technology.

                        Less Lethal Uses of Force

In the past, less lethal options for law enforcement was likely limited to the use of a baton, sap, billy club, or just plain beatings. With new technology, offenders who pose a risk, but not necessarily a lethal risk to anyone can be dealt with through means that are not only less maiming than a baton or beating, but also allow for officers to maintain a safer distance while neutralizing the threat.

The use of a shotgun or 35 millimeter beanbag round allows for officers to gain compliance from a distance by shooting a subject from upwards of 100 feet and affecting enough pain to gain compliance without causing substantial risk to life. Additionally, the use of these fired projectiles can include delivery systems for oleoresin capsicum (pepper spray), or diversionary explosive rounds not intended to injure or hurt but to distract and cause fear. These are also especially useful in dispersing large crowds.

Conductive Energy Devices, known by one such brand name as Tasers allow officers to neutralize a threat before having to go hands on and risk an officer’s safety. According to Taser International, a Scottsdale Arizona based patent holder, the device works as follows “Taser International”(2014) “The probes deployed from a TASER CEW carry fine wires that connect to the target and deliver the TASER into his neural network. These pulses delivered by the TASER CEW overwhelm the normal nerve traffic, causing involuntary muscle contractions and impairment of motor skills”. (Research and Safety). When deployed from a distance, this allows for officers to maintain their safety and neutralize a threat or potential combatant without causing any known lasting damage to the suspect. If the need were to arise, the Taser can also deliver a contact stun as well without deploying the charge that propels the probes.

Pepper spray, though not as contemporary as a Taser, replaced the traditional MACE (CN/CS Tear Gas) as a more effective means to neutralize a combatant or noncompliant subject. Through a compilation of studies conducted by the National Institute of Justice, a cautionary note was added stating that the deployment of pepper spray on a combatant appearing to be under the influence of narcotics or hallucinogens is not recommended and that an alternative use of force should be considered as the effect is greatly reduced. (Ashcroft, Daniels, & Hart, 2003). According to that very same study also concluded with “The results of all studies discussed in this Research for Practice seem to confirm that pepper spray is a reasonably safe and effective tool for law enforcement officers to use when confronting uncooperative or combative subjects; they provide no reason to stop using this important less-than-lethal weapon” (p.17)



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