In 2016, more than 130 police officers were killed in the line of duty in the United States, which is the highest number of fatalities on the job in five years. Every day police officers around the country put themselves in harm’s way; luckily new advancements in technology are helping to reduce deaths and injuries among police.
Bluetooth Bulletproof Vests
The Montgomery County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office is debuting a new technology that offers a lifesaving upgrade to an old police standard–the bulletproof vest. When an officer is shot, every second is precious. However, during heated situations or random violence, it can be difficult to locate the injured officer. Enter AID (Automatic Injury Detection), a thin sheet of plastic that is slipped into a bulletproof vest.
“The automatic injury detection system works through a trace on a piece of plastic, like an ink. If it’s penetrated, it automatically generates a Bluetooth signal,” explained Sheriff Hank Partin. “Along with that is a hyperlink, Google Earth, which points exactly where that deputy is.”
The Bluetooth signal also sends out an alert via text message and walkie-talkies. The technology works incredibly quickly. During a test where police shot a dummy wearing an AID-equipped vets, alerts were sent out before the dummy even hit the ground.
In terms of data security, while the device does hold personal information, tracking capabilities are not accessible unless there’s an event and a deputy has been injured, said Partin.
The vests are custom fitted and cost $350 per deputy for both the vest and new Bluetooth walkie-talkies.
Laser-Based Drug Tests
The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department in Indiana received permission to purchase a TruNarc Handheld Narcotics Analyzer. The device uses Raman spectroscopy to test for 370 illicit substances without requiring police to open any packaging that may be around the suspected substance.
Essentially, the device works by throwing a small laser light at a suspected illicit substance. Every chemical compound scatters that light in a slightly different pattern. TruNarc then compares the pattern with the 370 substances in its library to identify the substance. If a substance cannot be identified, TruNarc offers online support.
The TruNarc device not only allows police to scan for more illegal substances, but also provides a measure of safety for officers. Officers were previously required to open packaging and handle the substance in question to test it. This led to dangerous situations, according to Bartholomew County Sgt. Jim Stevens. He explained that recent confiscations of heroin have had fentanyl in them. Fentanyl is a pain medication administered through the skin and can cause severe breathing and cardiac problems.
“There have been incidents across the country where officers have gone down (after skin exposure to fentanyl),” Stevens told the Bartholomew County commissioners. “It’s very dangerous.”
Stun Gun-Equipped Drones
Police departments around the country are considering adding a drone armed with a stun gun to their arsenals. Taser International, a maker of stun guns and body cameras, met with police officials at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in 2016 regarding a drone armed with a stun gun.
The drone would be a small, quad-copter style drone with a mounted camera, light, and stun gun that police could deploy in emergency situations and would allow police officers to potentially rapidly incapacitate a threat. The company cautions that all drone ideas are “conceptual discussions” at this point.
“We’re also considering the potential misuses of such a technology in our discussions and before we would make any decisions,” Tuttle said.
However, the drone does have the potential to prevent potentially deadly encounters between law enforcement and potential suspects. By sending in a drone first, the suspect could be incapacitated, reducing the need for police to fire their weapons and the potential for law enforcement officers to be killed.
New Parking Enforcement Tool
The Barnacle is a new parking enforcement tool launched in summer 2016, currently in use in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Allentown, Pa.
The yellow device, which is used on cars with multiple parking violations, fits onto a car’s windshield using suction cups that apply 750 pounds of force. The upgraded car boot effectively blocks the driver’s view. While the Barnacle is nearly impossible to remove illegally, given that an alarm will sound if it is tampered with or if there is an attempt to drive with the Barnacle attached, it is fairly easy to remove legally. To release the Barnacle, a driver just has to call the number on the device, pay their fine, enter a release code, and drop off the device to a drop-off location within 24 hours.
If the driver doesn’t return the Barnacle within 24 hours of the paid fine, a GPS tracking device will turn on in order to locate the device.
Given that people can be angry, and even violent, when they discover their car is in the process of being booted, the Barnacle adds additional safety for officers charged with parking enforcement. A traditional boot is attached behind a car wheel, to prevent the vehicle from moving, and requires that the officer bend over–placing them in a vulnerable position. However, because the Barnacle is attached to the windshield, the officer can remain upright the entire time and the device deploys in less than 90 seconds, leaving less time for the officer to be discovered in the act of installation.