With the continual development of new technology, police work has advanced more in the last 15 years than it has since the first lawman wore a badge and carried a gun. Computers are at the forefront of this revolutionary technology that is modernising the law enforcement world and streamlining the way police officers prevent crime and detect and apprehend criminals.
Mobile Data Terminals
Computer technology has been most valuable in enhancing communication in the law enforcement community. Most police cars now come equipped with mobile data terminals (MDT). An MDT is basically a high-powered laptop computer that is mounted and hard-wired into a police car. An MDT allows a police officer to run number plates and driver's licenses. Everything the officer needs to know about a car and its operator is right there at his fingertips.
An MDT also comes with GPS tracking. This has two benefits. It enables the police officer to see where he is at all times on a map on the MDT screen, and it also allows central dispatching to see where the officer is on an electronic map. If a dispatcher has reason to believe the officer is in trouble, she can send backup to an exact location. The MDT also comes with an emergency button. If pressed, dispatchers know to send immediate backup to an officer's location. Dispatch can also follow along in case the officer is in a pursuit. In years past, officers would continually have to update over the radio the location of their pursuit. Now dispatch can follow along without the officer’s continual updates, and the officer can concentrate solely on the pursuit.
Another key aspect of computers is the dissemination of information in a timely manner. Updates about any recent crimes in an officer's patrol area can be forwarded to her while out on patrol. Even photos, if available, can now be sent instantaneously to aid officers in the apprehension of suspects. A recent case of a bank robbery is a prime example. Surveillance footage of a suspect was downloaded from video cameras in the bank and immediately disseminated to MDTs in police vehicles. The police set up road checks, and instead of a basic description of the suspect, police had an actual photo to work with.
A police officer's cell phone can now be an invaluable tool in fighting crime. Certain agencies are taking advantage of the new and improved cell phone technology. Cell phones can be set up to alert police about crimes, wanted persons and emergencies that are happening in and around their patrol area. Police can also receive alerts from surrounding jurisdictions about criminal activity that may have a direct effect on investigations they are currently conducting.
Technology is certainly making police communication more efficient, but it sometimes has the opposite effect on training. Technology is currently outpacing police training. Officers are constantly being trained and retrained in the use of new technology. Officers are not on the road when they are being trained, and this often leads to manpower issues and budgetary restraints due to overtime to cover posts. Many large police departments hire civilians specifically to maintain technological equipment and train police personnel on its use. These civilians are specialists in the technology world and are constantly learning about new advances and how to best incorporate them into police work.