Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), facial recognition, and drones are poised to improve law enforcement by making police more productive and effective, but their deployment also needs to be accompanied by new thinking and possible downsides including bias and cybersecurity, a Jan. 9 report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) says.

ITIF – a think tank for science and technology policy – proposed a 12-point plan for the Department of Justice (DOJ), state lawmakers, and local police departments to accelerate deployment of police technologies to maximize their benefits for public safety.

“Even the most well-equipped police departments are only scratching the surface of possibilities when deploying police tech,” said Juan Londoño, a policy analyst at ITIF and co-author of Police Tech: Exploring the Opportunities and Fact-Checking the Criticisms.

Londoño added, “As technology continues to improve and costs continue to decline, increased adoption of emerging tech by police departments will make law enforcement more efficient and effective and keep officers and civilians safe.”

ITIF cited numerous opportunities that emerging tech could bring to law enforcement agencies to improve mission outcomes.

“There are a variety of technologies police departments have used or may use in the future for every aspect of their jobs that are not limited to preventing, responding to, and solving crime,” the report says.

“There are also technological applications for keeping officers safe, streamlining back and front office processes, improving officer training, and maintaining public oversight and accountability,” it continues.

Some of these new technologies include AI, drones, facial recognition, and virtual reality.

However, the report also recognizes the “slippery slope” that each of these less-explored tools could go down when deployed.

Surveillance concerns, misuse and abuse, bias, over-policing, lack of transparency, cybersecurity concerns, and effectiveness are criticisms ITIF named when it comes to leveraging high-tech in police departments.

“Every technology has pros and cons, and when it comes to police technology, the key for maximizing the pros and minimizing the cons will be finding ways to address the top concerns associated with the technologies at law enforcement’s disposal through rules and best practices for their procurement and use,” ITIF said.

The report recommends a 12-point plan to DOJ, policymakers, and local police departments to maximize the benefits of police tech while minimizing the risks:

  • DOJ should conduct independent testing of police tech that may display bias to guide police procurement;
  • DOJ should tie Federal funding for police tech to baseline minimum cybersecurity requirements;
  • DOJ should establish a police tech grant challenge;
  • DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics should conduct more research on the effectiveness of police tech;
  • Congress should increase technology budgets for Federal law enforcement agencies;
  • State lawmakers should regulate police data collection;
  • State lawmakers should pass transparency requirements for police departments;
  • More police departments should establish voluntary programs that allow residents to share doorbell camera footage;
  • Police departments should require officers to complete training programs before using new police tech;
  • Police departments should require officers to only use police tech as intended by its developers;
  • Police departments should mandate basic cyber hygiene training for all officers; and
  • Police departments should conduct pilot studies on new police tech to ensure its effectiveness in the field.

“Blanket bans on technology are not the answer; instead, sensible rules and regulations could address critics’ legitimate concerns while enabling law enforcement to experiment with new technologies,” the report concludes.

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