The Police

VII. The Future of Policing

Although this research paper has presented only a snapshot of policing issues and research, a number of areas have had an increasing influence on policing and will guide policing in the future: (a) continued and concerted attempts by the police to be more attentive to the needs of citizens and solving the underlying problems that contribute to crime (e.g., community policing and problem-oriented policing); (b) responses by the police to demands for greater accountability from citizens, policymakers, and police administrators (e.g., Early Warning or Identification Systems, COMPSTAT, and citizen review boards); and (c) the application of new technologies to help officers and administrators accomplish these goals, including face recognition software and other computer applications.

A. Community and Problem-Solving Policing

One of the most important factors that moved policing strategies in new directions was the body of research indicating that traditional methods of policing (e.g., rapid response to citizen calls for service, preventive patrol, and the criminal investigation process) were not as efficient as expected in combating crime. The results of this research, and anecdotal information, highlighted the central role that the community played in the detection and prevention of crime. It is clear that without the cooperation of the community, very little crime would be solved at all, and public attitudes concerning the police would be very unfavorable. The argument that traditional policing is reactive rather than preventative, and treats the symptoms of crime rather than broaching the fundamental problems themselves, forced policing specialists to become proactive and to solve problems rather than simply respond to them after the fact. As these techniques improve and sufficient resources are allocated to proactive strategies, there may be a reduction in crime and a corresponding improvement in public perceptions of the police.

B. Responding to Demands for Greater Accountability

An integral part of community policing is greater accountability on the part of the police for their actions. In recent years, departments have adopted several strategies to facilitate an increase in officer accountability, both internally to superiors and externally to the citizens they serve. In order to promote accountability within police departments, police organizations across the United States are experimenting with COMPSTAT and other programs that develop, gather, and disseminate information on crime problems and hold police managers accountable to reduce the problems. Another innovation in accountability is the early identification of potentially problem officers. The Early Identification System (EIS) includes three basic elements: identification and selection of officers, intervention, and post-intervention monitoring. Each element selects a variety of performance indicators that capture officers’ behavior or compare officers in similar situations. The goal is to identify and intervene with officers whose behavior may be problematic.

C. New Technology

The improvement and application of technology is perhaps most likely to influence policing in the future. Implicit in this discussion of the implementation of community- or problem-oriented policing and the concomitant and innovative methods of enhancing police accountability has been the advent of technology. Perhaps the most important technological advancements inside a police department are crime analysis, computerized reports, GPS systems and car locators, and crime mapping. In the community, the use of cameras may result in crime deterrence or displacement and the enhanced ability to solve crimes.

Crime analysis has three primary functions. These include assessing the nature, extent, and distribution of crime for the purpose of allocating resources. The second primary function is to identify suspects to assist in investigations. The final function of crime analysis is to identify the conditions that facilitate crime and incivility and to direct approaches to crime prevention. The ability of law enforcement agencies to engage in crime analysis and fulfill these three primary functions has been greatly enhanced by advancements in information technology (IT). For example, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems have had a tremendous impact on the ability of the police to analyze and prioritize calls for service. CAD systems automatically collect and organize certain information from every call including the type of call, the location, the time, and the date. When these data sources are linked to others, crime analysts are capable of identifying “hot spots” of crime, detecting patterns of crime and disorder, and identifying factors or conditions that may be contributing to crime.

Most police officers complete handwritten reports on paper. New technology now permits many functions to be completed on computers in vehicles and automatically uploaded to agency computers as the vehicles drive by radio towers. Computerized reports can also permit key words, names, and specific information to be searched among all reports, and similarities can be flagged for further investigation of people and places.

New technologies installed in vehicles allow officers to access maps and allow managers to see where officers are located, at what speed they are driving, and where they have been. These new systems can assist the police function, protect officers, and serve as an accountability feature at the same time. In addition, experiments with license plate and face recognition software are taking place that allow officers while driving to be notified when a person or vehicle license of interest is observed.

The origin of crime mapping goes back to crude statistical analysis: a series of color-coded “push pins” in maps displayed on precinct station walls. Today, the police are able to use geographic information systems (GIS) technology to create maps that show the type of crime, victim information, location, time, and a variety of other criteria, all of which can be compared to census information or other databases containing what would otherwise be unconnected information. These data can be analyzed over time and space for trends or similarities, which can subsequently assist a department with crime detection, crime prediction, and resource analysis, among other things.

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