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Technology in Different Policing Eras
Development of technology use in the police allowed the policing methods to evolve from reactive crime control to proactive and preventive security. Moreover, analysis of the technology development is essential for identifying current challenges, weaknesses and strengths of modern policing standards. The history of American policing is divided in political, professional, and community-oriented eras. Each of the eras is characterized by the particular use of technology.
During the political policing era, local politicians appointed policemen for the period they served the political party (patronage system). Moreover, the policemen of that time didn’t wear a uniform, had no firearms, and performed a lot of “non-law enforcement jobs” (Foster, 2013, p. 112).
When the professional policing model evolved, it was characterized by service system recruitment and training of the policemen, structured hierarchy, and standardized rules and policies. Community-oriented era is based on two social theories: “normative sponsorship theory” and “critical social theory” (Foster, 2013, p. 118). By these theories, people’s nature is good, and they will cooperate for the benefit of their community by discussing and analyzing the problems they face.
Although technology is an “enhancer” in the community-oriented policing model, it was used during the political era and “to a greater extent” in the professional era (Foster, 2013, p. 112). For example, use of fingerprints identification dates back to the political era. However, all the fingerprints taken were stored on the cards, and it took enormous time to check all the cards to find a match. During the professional policing era, though, introduction of new “systems of fingerprints classification” and computer technology that used “sophisticated and complex algorithms to recognize and compare minutiae” enabled the police to narrow the search “from millions of cards to thousands” (Foster, 2013, p. 122).
Furthermore, in the community-oriented era optical scanning uses “a charged coupled device (CCD)” with the help of which “the errors rate of manually fingerprinting suspects was all but defeated” (Foster, 2013, p. 126). Therefore, although the technology was used during all the policing eras, the quality and speed of data analysis increased in the community-oriented era significantly.
Technology and Policing Methods in Patrol
The way technology has been used in the different eras testifies of the methods prevailing in the corresponding policing model. Thus, the issue of mobility “may have been a force in changing policing from political to the professional” (Foster, 2013, p. 114). For example, actions taken by August Vollmer represent the evolution of technology use in policing methods in patrol during the political and the professional eras. Around 1905, he ran a series of “time tests that demonstrated officers on bicycles could respond up to three times faster to calls for service than officers on foot” (Foster, 2013, p. 114). Consequently, Vollmer changed foot patrol to bicycle patrol, and then in 1917 he put all his police officers in cars to increase the speed of the police reaction to crimes.
Besides, police supervisors and managers counted numbers of calls an officer handled and calculated how fast the officer arrived at the scene of a crime at the time of professional era. Thus, the model of “incident driven policing” used technology in patrolling based on the concept that “the police were the professionals who knew best, responded quickly, and handled incidents” (Foster, 2013, p. 117). In contrast, the community-oriented policing model focuses on “situational crime prevention” (Foster, 2013, p. 21). Therefore, technology now serves to increase the effectiveness of the police in proactive actions devoted to preventing crimes.
Alongside with “mobile fingerprint readers, facial recognition, gunshot detection devices, video equipment, or aerial surveillance equipment”, introduction of license plate reader (LPR) technology as “a scanning and information technology” is used by “law enforcement agencies to detect, deter, and prevent crime” (Lum, Hibdon, Cave, Koper, & Merola, 2011, pp. 321-322).
Technically, there is a small scanner that is placed “either on a patrol vehicle or mounted at a fixed location”, and it detects “the numbers and letters on license plates of vehicles that come within its view” and checks them in a database of plates “of interest” (Lum et al., 2011, p. 322). Hence, as soon as the database detects the license plate of a car as suspicious for either being stolen, having unpaid tickets, or connected to a crime; the police officer receives an alert and should then act according to the instructions. Therefore, LRP allows the police to reduce or prevent crimes effectively.
Collection of Information during the Political Era
Since the political era is characterized by little or no use of technology, foot patrol was the most used tactic for the police. As police officers walked beats, they dealt with crimes and disorders when they saw them or when citizens and police managers reported the problems.
Sometimes police officers “received information about crime or social problems during pre-shift briefing” (Foster, 2013, p. 13). Still, most of the time policemen had to find information by contacting with the public directly and using people living in their beats. On one hand, the police were closely connected with the communities, and citizens relied on them and supported them. On the contrary, close relationship with the community led to prejudice against strangers in the beats and impeded police officers to deal with crimes and disorders objectively.
Therefore, lack of technology and information determined reactive crime control policing model in the political and professional eras in contrast to the current proactive and preventive policing methods.
Foster, R. E. (2013). Police technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Lum, C., Hibdon, J., Cave, B., Koper, C. S., & Merola, L. (2011). License plate reader (LPR) police patrols in crime hot spots: An experimental evaluation in two adjacent jurisdictions. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 7(4), 321-345.