Next Generation Police Tools, Part 2: NMA E-Newsletter #467

Next Generation Police Tools will be an ongoing feature of the Weekly NMA E-Newsletter. Check out Part 1 HERE.

Dragon Cameras

Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Dayton, Ohio police departments recently announced they are using “Dragon Cameras,” a handheld device that uses both a laser measuring tool and a camera to capture an image of a moving violation.

Similar to a stationary speed camera, the dragon camera can record an alleged speeding incident and automatically provide the information needed to send out a ticket, no traffic stop required. The car owner gets a ticket in the mail a few weeks later. The difference—a law enforcement officer must trigger the device and witness the violation in person. Since the dragon cam is a fully functional laser speed gun officers can still stop drivers for excessive speeding or other traffic violations and hand out tickets in person if necessary.

In October, Dayton police began using dragon cams on Interstate 75 and U.S. 35.  Detective Jason Ward says the six devices now owned by the department are a big benefit because it can be difficult and dangerous for police to try and catch speeding vehicles on high-volume highways especially at rush hour. In the first month of operation, police mailed out more than 1,200 warnings. In November, 950 citations were sent to registered owners of cars or trucks recorded on camera as speeding suspects.

Police in Cedar Rapids plan to focus the use of their four dragon cams on school and work zones. In the first week of the traffic enforcement campaign outside of a local high school, 60 drivers were cited without one traffic stop. Department spokesperson Greg Buelow said that the DragonCam program is set up to generate civil fines that don’t have court costs and don’t include points against licenses.

Dragon cam devices don’t have flash technology that would allow them to be used at night.

The next two Next Generation Police Tools are the newest ways law enforcement officials are using big data to find crime hotspots or predict which individuals might be suspect whether or not they have ever been in contact with police.

Big Data for Local Police

Rutland, Vermont has started using a software modeling system called Data-Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety or DDACTS. The software tracks locations of calls to help reduce crime and traffic accidents. In the first few months of use, the software helped police identify three zones that were generating most of the calls and most of the traffic accidents. Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said that the DDACTS allows officers to go where the “chaos” is happening and the department has been able to zero in on even smaller “hot spots” with the highest activity of crime.

The city is also tracking “threepeats,” which is a designation that officers use when they are called at least three times over a two-week period for any reason to a particular location. Once the police identify a threepeat hotspot, additional patrols can be dispatched on a regular basis.

Predictive Policing

For the past several years, the Los Angeles Police Department has been using a software tool called Predpol made by Palentir that utilizes an algorithm to help direct police where crime might happen. UT Austin sociologist Sarah Brayne spent two-and-a-half years conducting field research with the LAPD and came to a number of conclusions about LA’s predictive policing program which combines the growth of police surveillance and the rise of big data:

–Instead of a law-enforcement agency, the LAPD is becoming an intelligence agency. Their focus seems to be shifting from interdicting or solving a crime to surveilling people who had not yet committed a crime.

–Due to the predictive algorithm used by the Predpol, officers spend most of their time patrolling minority and poor neighborhoods rather than solving actual crimes.

–Police officers candidly admitted that the Predpol allowed them to put an objective face on the department’s ongoing illegal racial profiling practices, with a particular interest on gang members.

–Individuals now no longer engage in incriminating acts but instead lead incriminating lives—daily activities, now codified as data, can be used as evidence ex posto facto. Police can start a file on individuals who are not suspected of a crime but are identified as data points by Predpol’s predictive algorithm. It is Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report in practice.

Police have a tough job maintaining law and order but if this trend toward more intrusive police tools and tactics continues, it will be even more difficult to preserve individual constitutional protections.

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