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Technology & Law Enforcement

Updated on February 24, 2015

by Amber Maccione

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Since America was founded, technology has been on the rise. With technology come the good, bad, and the ugly. Technology can do a lot as far as help things run smoothly and efficiently. But on the other side, it can cost a lot and be time consuming. And then it can also fall into the wrong hands and be used to cause more problems than actually help. So why would law enforcement want to turn to technology as a way of helping prevent crime if there are possibilities of it not working? Technology can be beneficial if these things are present: 1) been tested and proven to be cost effective, 2) there is enough training so that those using it are comfortable with it to be efficient, 3) the need for the technology to be updated or repaired is low cost and not tedious, and 4) does the technology actually make the job of law enforcement efficient, effective, and safer (Schultz 2008). Some current technological items have proven to fulfill these four things and continue as more research is done to perfect them even more: biometrics, crime lights, in-car cameras, and thermal imaging.


One of these technological advances is in biometrics. Biometrics is like fingerprinting except that it looks at facial features. One way it was used was in Super Bowl XXXV. Law enforcement used it to scan the audience and walkways for terrorists or criminals. The camera surveillance system scanned people’s faces picking up certain facial features and matching them against a database that contained known terrorists and criminals. If it found a match, the system would alert the police. Although there have been privacy concerns, this system has been seen as beneficial as to prevent terrorist attacks before they happen. And although it could possibly produce a false positive, it does reduce racial profiling (Woodward 2001).

Crime Lights

Another type of technological advancement that is being used by our law enforcement is crime lights. These nifty devices can detect hair, fibers, and body fluids at a crime scene. Sometimes crime scenes have to be processed at night or are in very low lit areas, which make it hard for CSI to process a scene. With these lights, the CSI team can work quicker and more efficiently. They get the job done more thoroughly and swiftly because they do not have to rely solely on their own eyesight, but have the help of these lights (Schultz 2008).

In-Car Camera Systems

A lot of police cars now are being equipped with in-car camera systems. When a police officer pulls someone over or arrives where a situation has occurred, these cameras act as a silent witness (Schultz 2008). They record from the viewpoint of the squad car how things transpire between citizens and the police. Not only does the camera system help in keeping the officers involved accountable for their actions, it also helps in court cases when there are questions about who is telling the truth between the officer and the individual (Schultz 2008).


Thermal Imaging

The last neat technological advancement among law enforcement is thermal imaging, which produces images of radiated or reflected surface energy. Such technology has been used in searching for a missing person, to gather evidence, to deter crime, and to locate marijuana grow houses. When searching for someone, whether it be a missing person or someone wanted by the law, thermal imaging can lower the time it takes to find them from hours to minutes because it can detect body heat or surface energy (Schultz 2008).

Technology & Crime

Although there are great benefits to technology as far as law enforcement goes, technology can also make us vulnerable if it falls into the wrong hands. Not only does law enforcement need to be up on their own technology when it comes to crime prevention, they also need to be aware and up to date on how criminals are using technology to advance with their goals (Goodman 2012). With today’s technological advanced world new crimes arise because of technology such as cyber crimes (i.e. sexual predators, hackers, stolen identities), advancements in drug trafficking (i.e. robotic submarines), and terrorist attacks (i.e. robotic aircraft) (Goodman 2012).

The Answer to the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

So how do all of these things – the good, the bad, and the ugly – that surround technology help improve law enforcement and their response to crime? The first thing is for law enforcement to know what they are up against – training. In order to prevent crime, you must understand crime and know the next move of the criminals a step ahead of the criminal. Being up to date on the types of technology that is out there and how it can be used for crime can help law enforcement evaluate their own department and what technology will be helpful for them to combat or deter crime ahead of time. The second thing is to pick types of technology for each department based on what their mission is and what technology will help that department the most (effectively, efficiently, and officer safety) at the least cost to that department whether it be through their own budget or by grants. Therefore, technology is only good and beneficial if it is cost effective, those using it understand its use, and is specific to the needs and goals of that department.


Goodman, M. (2012). “How technology makes us vulnerable.” CNN Opinion. Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved from

Schultz, P. (2008). “The Future Is Here: technology in Police Departments.” The Police Chief. Retrieved from

Woodward, J. D., Jr. (2001, May). Super Bowl Surveillance Facing Up to Biometrics. Retrieved from

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    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Good car audio-video cameras that record what is going on near your auto are available online for under $100. I began thinking about installing one after I watched a video where a person captured the assailants words (screaming) and auto license number involved in road rage crime.