Law Enforcement Journal

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The Future of Law Enforcement

By Tim J. Cain

One of the recurring topics here at ILEA surrounds the future of law enforcement or, more precisely, how we train today’s young people to be the law enforcement guardians of the future.  This task requires a shiny crystal ball, a ‘third eye’, and more than a modicum of prognostication, with a liberal sprinkling of science fiction.  If we look, emerging social and technological patterns drastically change the thrust of law enforcement and the prototypical police officer.

I believe that the single biggest revolution in the history of mankind, both social and technological, is the invention and development of the computer.  Humankind has progressed to the information age and computers gather, sort, analyze, and present information.  Computers truly govern our lives.

In the span of just a few short years we have witnessed the introduction of driverless cars.  While we ‘dinosaurs’ shudder at the thought of machines controlling the trajectory and velocity of our lives as passengers, the fact is that autonomous cars will save lives.  According to National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration statistics for 2015, Americans drove 3.1 trillion miles, and experienced 6.3 million crashes.  That equates to approximately one crash for every 492,063 miles driven.

In comparison, Google’s 55 autonomous vehicles have driven a total of 1.3 million miles with only 11 crashes from 2009 through 2015.  That equals one crash for every 120,000 miles, but estimates place the number of crashes at one in six million miles in the not-to-far future, and even fewer crashes as the technology advances.  Our society has all of the pieces of the puzzle of autonomous driving already in the current marketplace: automatic braking, automatic lane control, cruise (speed) control, on-board mapping devices, and global positioning systems.  Autonomous vehicles simply put all the pieces together.

Over 90% of vehicle crashes are attributed to human error; if we remove the human factor, may we expect a 90% reduction in crashes?  Perhaps not, but we will experience a dramatic change.  And, as a staple of police work, if crashes are reduced so too is the demand on law enforcement.  Collateral reductions will also be noticed in driving while suspended charges, drunk driving charges, reckless driving cases, leaving the scene cases, and speeding stops.  The need for traffic enforcement will be virtually nil.

Cell phone apps now include a lie detector function.  This app receives and analyzes facial expressions, changes in skin color, body positions, temperature, and voice cues, and reports a determination of truthfulness.  Chinese computer professionals combined state-of-the-art facial recognition software with artificial intelligence to recreate a combination of lie detector and voice stress analysis techniques, and all without attaching electrodes or other sensors.  A person may be subjected to analysis and not be aware that it’s taking place.  While it may be true that lie detector results are inadmissible in court to prove guilt, maybe combining that with voice stress principles and coupled with the fact that the subject is unaware of the scan and therefore not ‘on guard’ will result in greater reliability (and consequent admissibility).

The impact on criminal investigations and prosecutions cannot be understated.  Perfection of this technology could reduce or eliminate the need for investigations, as the only requirement would be to employ this app by any untrained person.  Further, the need for juries to determine guilt will dwindle and, perhaps, police officers using this technology will become judges and juries (a là Judge Dredd?).

Innovations in banking, credit, and finance are already being felt in law enforcement circles.  As a society, we now make more purchases online than are made by shopping in person.  Ebay, Amazon, and innumerable retailers have revolutionized the concept of purchasing; PayPal, Google, and Apple have simplified payment for goods and services to just entering an account number; FedEx, UPS, and other delivery companies deliver your purchases, literally, to your doorstep.  My daughter orders and pays for her groceries online, then drives to the store, texts the service desk, and they put her groceries in the car and she drives away.  Recently I went to a store that doesn’t accept cash (yes, I’m aware of federal law)!  ‘Black Friday’ has yielded to ‘Cyber Monday’.  Banks are shifting to ATMs and electronic or remote tellers.

As store fronts begin to close, thefts and shoplifting calls will dwindle.  The old ‘smash-and-grab’ crimes are already relics of the past.  Vendors won’t need to display their wares and so will exercise a higher level of security by restricting access to goods to only a select few order fillers.  Additionally, vendors can position their warehouses in remote locations and employ extra security measures.  Business burglaries and even employee thefts will also decline.  Bank robberies will be nothing more than quaint war stories by the old ‘dinosaur’ cops.  Bad checks and counterfeit currency will be unheard of crimes.

My crystal ball is getting hazy now, but without doubt the very nature of law enforcement is evolving.  Tomorrow’s police officer will be vastly different from today’s cop, and the skill set of police must adapt to a changing society.  Certainly, the need for physical arts training will remain because we are, after all, emotional human beings and subject to physical violence.  Miscreants will need to be restrained.  The law enforcement training program of the future will shift from a focus on property and traffic crimes (and some crimes against persons) to technological crimes, and the need for training in computers, software, and similar technology will assume the bulk of law enforcement education.

Do you hear that?  It’s the sound of the next meteor, in the form of technology, striking the earth to obliterate us old ‘dinosaurs’ of law enforcement.

As always, anyone interested in submitting an article to the Journal is invited to do so by emailing: with a copy of the article attached to the email.

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