The Future of Police Technology

Future police technologyI recently attended the second annual Police Technology Forum in Canberra organised by Informa Australia. The somewhat convoluted theme of the conference was “Evolving technology capability for a new age of policing in the face of advanced criminal intelligence,” but the conference proved to be rather more interesting than the theme suggested.

Jeff Kukowski, the Chief Operating officer of Taser International was the chair for the first day. He spoke about the pace of change in the policing and law enforcement environment. He stated that in the next eight to nine years, for $1,000 you will be able to buy a computer that surpasses the human brain, and by 2045 you will be able to buy one for $1,000 that surpasses all human brains combined. In the not too distant future, there will be no need for drivers to take tests because cars will self-drive. The Google car has done 400,000 miles with only one accident – when it was rear-ended by a human driver.

The keynote address was given by Stephen Crombie the Chief Information Officer for the New Zealand Police. New Zealand is generally more advanced than Australia in police take-up of technology. Apparently New Zealand is a good size for testing new technologies and industry thinking seems to be that if it works in the difficult physical environment of New Zealand it will work anywhere, including Australia. That said, New Zealand is also innovative in prison management with its total ban on smoking in jails – which has only been replicated so far in Australia in the Northern Territory.

This was followed by a panel discussion about integrating technology to enable greater inter-agency communication. The panel members were: Stephen Crombie, Chief Information Officer at New Zealand Police; Kevin Jeffery, Manager Engagement and Design from the Australian Crime Commission; and Joann Corcoran, acting Chief Information Officer from Attorney General’s Department.

Jeff Kukowski came back to the podium to present on integrating digital technology and evidence management. Technology has redefined crime scene management and there is scope for much wider employment in law enforcement, but some aspects have implications for privacy laws governing surveillance. There are now 60,000 Taser body cameras in use with law enforcement worldwide, with 90 per cent of US law enforcement officers favouring their use. Police body cameras there have reduced litigation by 93 per cent, reduced complaints by the public by 100 per cent, and increased efficiency by 9.2 per cent.

Commissioner Ian Stewart from the Queensland Police Service (QPS) talked about revolutionising the way the public contact the police, developing emergency text and social messaging communication channels, and building a real-time virtual emergency service infrastructure. The QPS has had great success with its Facebook presence with 432,500 members and a high level of retention. Disasters bring in more members but the challenge is to grow and keep members without relying on disasters. An important use of Facebook and Twitter is to engage the public in ongoing events, like using a publicly videoed attack on a pensioner by two young women to identify the offenders, and then give the public feedback on what had been done by police. This in my view has been a major failing of police who often do not bother to provide feedback on information provided, to the detriment of future public cooperation. Commissioner Stewart noted that the main impediment to smart policing is entrenched cultures. Tech enthusiasts using their own apps for policing can also create standardisation problems.

Dr Maria Milosavljevic, Chief Information Officer from the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) talked about “Alice in Dataland”. Rapid technological growth has seen organised crime markets grow and diversify, and find endless ways to exploit traditional and new markets – hence the importance of organisational agility to respond to the dynamic and complex environment. Criminals do not limit their activities to physical boundaries – national information sharing is of increasing importance, as is coordination and collaboration in addressing the highest threats. The information environment is becoming more complex and dynamic – bringing together subject matter experts, investigators, analysts and advanced analytics to achieve more efficient and effective outcomes. Maria noted that the ACC did not have a common practice in the past – let alone a best practice.

Dave Cooper, Enterprise Group Chief Technology Officer, Public Sector, Hewlett-Packard, presented on cloud computing and law enforcement. He spoke on harmonising due process to deliver best practices in cloud computing, the shift from manual to automated crime reporting via cloud technology, saving police time without compromising security of information, and delivering automatic and secure back-up of classified files and evidence. Many agencies are stuck in traditional IT because they are reluctant to dispose of relatively recent major IT outlays to embrace newer and cheaper technologies. The cloud makes data storage cheaper and better integrates multiple users. For cloud enthusiasts, a converged cloud apparently includes traditional IT, the private cloud, public cloud and managed cloud.

This was followed by a cloud panel with Andrew Phillips, Public Sector Lead ANZ, Amazon Web Services; Michael Tran, Convenor, Cloud Computing Special Interest Group (NSW), Australian Computer Society; Ron Brandt, VP Products and Services, Taser International; and Wayne Hutchings, Senior Sergeant, Road Policing Command, QPS. Continued advancements in cloud application technologies present revolutionary opportunities to crime scene management and police operations. The panel discussed the time, efficiency and financial savings that can be achieved from a cloud model and the implications for policing. Most security problems come from insiders rather than outsiders, and the main vulnerability is the connection to the public cloud rather than data storage there. Senior Sergeant Hutchings said that today in road policing if there is no video there is not likely to be a conviction, but that means handling huge amounts of data.

Steve Milligan, Public Safety and Emergency Management Specialist, Signal Corporation, is a former British police officer now involved in marketing software that helps law enforcement to monitor social media. Since New Zealand Police started monitoring social media for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, it has become an integral aspect of their daily activities. According to Steve, with the ongoing evolution of social media as a mainstream communications medium, the need to be aware of activities on social media is paramount. He gave some examples of police use of social media like the Boston Police use of Facebook after the bombing. Unfortunately terrorists are now doing the same thing, with al-Shabaab terrorists updating what they were doing on Facebook as they killed shoppers in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. Drummer Lee Rigby’s killers in London were also media savvy. Signal Corporation will only access publicly available information but the data gives managers a better feel for the way the public is perceiving police activities during a major event.

Dr Michael Salter, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Western Sydney, evaluated proposed uses of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology for law enforcement, looking at available evidence for the effectiveness of UAV for policing. He did this by assessing the practical and social impacts of military technology in policing, the effectiveness of unmanned aerial vehicles for law enforcement, the history of military-police technology transfers, and established utility of UAV in emergency responses. Quadcopters are the main type of UAV being used by police in Australia. He was generally negative about the use of UAVs in policing, noting that they had been overhyped and obtained mainly for counter terrorism (CT) use but had not been very effective for other roles. Nonetheless, they had been in use in the US for law enforcement since 2005 and the UK since 2008. Dr Salter noted that in terms of UAV take-up, there had been a peak of inflated expectation, followed by a trough of disillusionment, followed by a slope of enlightenment, followed by a plateau of productivity – which is where we are now. He concluded that for many policing roles, manned aircraft are still a better option.

John McCormick, Director Aviation Safety at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) talked about Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) in civil airspace – addressing international concerns and controversies. He covered developing enhanced maritime surveillance capabilities, mitigating aircraft collisions and malfunctions, implications for privacy and civil liberties, and the militarisation of police drone technology. CASA’s concerns relate to the safety issues with drones. He noted CASA’s challenges, with RPAs having increasing payloads, weaponising, using GPS jammers, and having greater autonomy.

The final panel for Day 1 was on “Building a code of ethics in the application of technology” and comprised Commander Carlene York, Assistant Commissioner for Human Resources, NSW Police; John McCormick; Stephen Crombie; and George Hateley, Director, Breon Defence Systems. It was noted that increasingly advanced and intelligent capabilities bring with them a responsibility to protect wider society in the face of complex organised crime. The discussion explored the scope for defined ethical principles governing the implementation of new technology.

Day 2’s keynote address was by Mark Burgess, the CEO of the Police Federation of Australia, with a plea to the Commonwealth Government to allocate sufficient spectrum for dedicated broadband public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) radio communications in Australia, with a minimum 20MHz allocated to public safety in either the 700 or 800 MHz band. Mark noted that in national disasters, 80 per cent of the cost falls to the federal government. Currently, Australia spends only $1 on pre-disaster measures and $10 on post-disaster recovery. The Abbott government had committed to improved PPDR before gaining office but is now dragging its feet and letting down Australia’s 400,000 first responders.

The international keynote address was given by Ray Schultz, the impressive former Police Chief of the Albuquerque Police Department, on strategies for successful implementation of body-worn video cameras or personal video recorders (PVRs). He also shared that 90 per cent of murdered people have had recent contact with the offender so a high priority is to download the victim’s cell phone calls. In the US, he said, there are more people in emotional crisis on the streets because of the lack of alternatives, and becoming a police problem.

Smart policing is the way of the future, with the operational aim of getting as much information as possible to officers on the way to a crime scene. The media is always on the scene quickly and want answers now – or within hours. Schultz’s role as Chief was to brief the media personally within 4-12 hours. One of the media’s first priorities at a crime scene is buying videos and photos from bystanders. The US media cycle is three days for the main event, three days for the funeral, and three days for the aftermath. The media bias is toward sensationalism and polarising stories. Body cameras have been great for the police in this environment because they provide transparency – transparency is now the buzzword. In the main, the public do not like police using force. At crime scenes, the police will also try to buy the public’s pictures and videos so that if the media cut and spin stories against the police, their reporters can be held accountable. It is worthwhile doing this because one incident alone cost the Albuquerque PD $10 million in litigation.

PVRs must be dependable, wearable and manageable. If the camera does not work, it is seen as a cover-up. The Albuquerque PD use the AXON Flex system now, best worn on the collar because it provides a high platform and does not get in the way of seat belts. Only 7 per cent of the video is worth saving forever. Any use of force video has to be reviewed by a supervisor within 24 hours. He stated that the Cloud-based Flex system is the way to go for cost and other factors. Because of the success of PVRs, fire-fighters and paramedics now want them too. While the video cannot be turned off, the sound recording can be stopped to allow private conversations between officers.

Trent Rhodes from Road Policing Command, Victoria Police spoke about Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) in Australia, the application of ANPR technology beyond highways, and privacy concerns. 242 people were killed on Victorian roads last year which is the lowest total since 1924. The Bluenet system, with five cars, can check 5,000 numberplates a day, even at a closing speed of 200 kmph. Police can track specific vehicles or monitor all vehicles attending an event. In the UK, criminals are using ANPR to track covert police vehicles. Police are very conscious of privacy considerations. The aim is to record the vehicle not the occupant, but data collected can be used with other sources to integrate data on the movement of individuals. The main police focus is on road safety. ANPR enhances road safety, reduces road crime and lowers insurance premiums. While the ANPR reading relates to the car, if a suspended driver might be driving that car the information is on the database. ANPR also provides descriptive detail about the vehicle in case of switched plates. NSW is in the lead on ANPR because it was first cab off the rank in 2005. Each state will progress as they think fit. Regrettably, there is still not a common standard nine years after ANPR’s introduction into Australia.

Dr Simon Walsh, Chief Scientist Forensics, AFP spoke on maximising the benefits of forensics for law enforcement. He discussed current and future science and technology trends in forensics, models for improving and applying quality management, capability development and innovation, optimising operating models and workflows, and forensic intelligence. The term “criminalistics” (meaning the scientific study and evaluation of physical evidence in the commission of crimes) is being used by police in the US. Forensic intelligence has been a breakthrough in the ACT where the burglary rate has gone from second highest in Australia to lowest. The AFP now has an intelligence officer embedded with forensics. The investigation staff drives the forensic requirements. Another success story has been the National Forensic Rapid Lab (NFRL) in Sydney, where four staff members look at 500 selected mail items per week, comparing handwriting, identifying drugs, and recording latent prints post-seizure (the same prints may turn up in different parcels). In the first six months of operation they seized 500kg of drugs. In the future, the AFP wants to upgrade to automatic latent processing.

Dr Raymond Choo, Research Director, Cloud Security Alliance, and Senior Lecturer, School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences, University of South Australia, presented on mobile devices and their implications for forensic investigations in Australia. He covered security and privacy concerns for users, challenges for law enforcement, especially from a digital forensic perspective, and the way forward. He started out by asking how many of us read the permissions apps are asking for – the response suggested that none of us do, which says a lot about our blind trust in app providers. Raymond discussed increasing data volume and its cost implications. Digital forensic practitioners, especially those in government and law enforcement agencies, are under pressure to deliver more with less, especially in today’s economic landscape. This gives rise to a variety of important requirements, including a more efficient method of collecting and preserving evidence, a capacity to triage evidence prior to conducting a full analysis, reducing data storage requirements, being able to conduct a review of information in a timely manner for intelligence, research and evidential purposes, being able to archive important data, being able to quickly retrieve and review archived data, and having a source of data to enable a review of current and historical cases for intelligence, research, and knowledge management. Initial research with sample data from the South Australia Police, using the university-proposed framework, resulted in significant reduction in storage requirements – the reduced subset is only 0.196 per cent and 0.75 per cent respectively of the original data volume.

Inspector Joseph McNulty, Marine Area Command, NSW Police, presented on maritime domain awareness (MDA) and the challenges for law enforcement. He covered: transnational (maritime) organised crime, environmental crime impacts, maritime security, and MDA technology. There are algorithms for predicting fishing activities. Non-cooperating ship positions show up on the MDA displays. An interesting slide showed the large number of foreign fishing vessels, mainly Chinese, fishing just outside Australian waters. Fishing, both legal and illegal, is big business. $1.8 million was paid recently for one tuna at the Tokyo fish market because it was the first of the season. Maritime crime is hard to prosecute due to transnational flagging, non-Australian masters and owners (who may in turn be different nationalities), a diverse-nationality crew, and their ability to use ports of convenience, different jurisdictions, and access to tax havens to evade prosecution. Vessels may also change their name and appearance. Suspect vessels are tracked but often criminal transhipments occur at sea – of fish, people, drugs, contraband items, weapons, timber, and so on, making arrest and prosecution more difficult. In the future, there will be near-live satellite imagery and better crime predictability.

After lunch, Commander Carlene York spoke on “What culture do we want in policing?” Policing requires a culture that is innovative, safety focussed and professional. Technology is transforming how forensic science is used to support law enforcement by placing previously laboratory-based techniques and equipment into the mobile environment where results are provided in seconds, providing operational police with real-time identifications and intelligence. Policing must maximise the benefits derived from these new techniques while maintaining public confidence in the validity and quality of forensic support to policing. “Our sworn and unsworn staff must be developed and supported throughout these changes to ensure we have a skilled work force with an innate capacity in the ever-changing new world operating environment.” The bush hunt for Malcolm Naden created new policing challenges. Police used sensors and bush cameras, but equipment from the US had data link issues and had to be adapted. As police rely more on non-sworn officers to save money, there can be increased risk for unarmed personnel. For example, during the Naden hunt, there were dangers for unarmed tech staff when accessing emplaced sensors. On one occasion, two unarmed officers arrived just after Naden had left which could have resulted in a fatal outcome. The NSW Police uses Facebook to connect with the younger generation while older people are still accessed through neighbourhood watch.

Rob Hockings, Public Safety Specialist, Tait Communications, spoke about how to gain the policing / law enforcement operational advantage through communications – now and into the future. He discussed communications history in public safety, where we are today, the possibilities of tomorrow, critical success factors required to move from today to tomorrow, and how to identify communications return on investment metrics for your business case.

James Smart, Partner, Maddocks, gave practical tips on preparing effective IT contracts for police, including how to ensure your contract delivers an effective project (on time/scope/budget), key contract terms in a police / law enforcement IT context, managing performance failures, and implementing variations. He recommended that those interested in this area view the Victorian ombudsman’s report in 2011.

Dr Simon O’Rourke, Supervisor, Western Australia Police, challenged the current approach to police use of technology. He focussed on changing existing business processes to maximise technology, point of view incident recording (using Google Glass), shifting from desktop systems to mobile devices, and redesigning data entry and accessibility (police apps). Police in WA now expect their officers to view public commentary on their arrests on Facebook before they get back to the station. Globally, police budgets are decreasing – the police in the UK have lost 20 per cent of their budget. 75 per cent of police money goes to paying staff. Police activities are currently station-centric but the lesson from the UK is that police need to be more mobile with minimal time back at base. Mobile devices have to go to all frontline police. UK Police Minister Damian Green says radical changes are needed in policing and next-generation IT will allow for the introduction of radical changes. Simon commented that at the moment we send injured experienced officers home or put them on light duties, but they could be used to do IT work instead. Information and communications technology (ICT) is critical to business and should be seen as critical for police. Finally, we have too many databases that have to be accessed separately.

In sum, the conference showed clearly that smart IT-based policing is the way ahead and is something that police leaders and managers must be conversant with. Anyone interested in accessing the conference PowerPoints can do so through

The third Police Technology Forum will probably be held in Canberra in the same general time-frame next year. If you would like to attend, keep an eye on

Clive Williams
Clive Williams is a visiting professor at the ANU’s Centre for Military and Security Law and an adjunct professor at ADFA