HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – For decades, law enforcement groups have argued for the implementation of technology in the police force.
And it’s not just about efficiencies and cost reductions – these technologies are designed to improve investigative outcomes, officer response and more.
Police across the country are increasingly relying on new technologies to do their jobs, and that includes our officers here at home.
They use license plate readers, body cameras and even gunshot detection systems in their daily work – just to name a few.
But when it comes down to it, what are the pros and cons of all this technology?
“As new cameras come out, new technology comes out, we continue to grow in this format,” said Sgt. Marc Lawrence of the Chesapeake Police Department.
The future of policing will be largely determined by the same technology that is revolutionizing other areas of our lives.
Cameras, drones, virtual reality – everything is used to fight crime.
“Leadership viewed it as a tool that would not only help citizens but would also help officials accomplish their jobs and daily responsibilities,” Lawrence said.
The Chesapeake Police Department uses a variety of technologies: from using body cameras to record daily interactions, to red light and speed cameras to make certain driving zones safer, to using drones to find wanted or missing persons while reducing the risk of injury to decrease officers.
“Being able to throw up a drone and being able to see a suspect coming from our perimeter when officers are right around,” Sgt. Laurentius said. “It benefits officers and prevents injuries because they know what’s coming so they can prepare better.”
Law enforcement has steadily evolved into a technologically advanced profession — and officers keep pushing forward.
“I would emphatically say that we are one of the most advanced departments in the state when it comes to technology. And I just think that’s important,” Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said. “All of our officers here have body cameras. I think we were the first in the state to equip the entire department like this.”
And they weren’t just pioneers with body cameras — they were also the first department to install shotspotters in Hampton Roads.
The chief says they not only use the system for calls they receive, but also for those they don’t.
“That was kind of a setback for me, realizing that some of the call shots are happening and nobody is calling. So I think it’s important for citizens to know that we’re there, we’ve been able to respond to the shotspotter where he’s triangulating the sound waves and telling us where those shots came from,” the chief said. “We made arrests because we responded, we were able to go back and find bullet casings of evidence linked to cases.”
Our law enforcement analyst says police departments are constantly looking for innovative ways to handle their responsibilities — and get more or the same amount of work done with fewer officers.
“Overall across the country, technology will serve as a great force multiplier when it comes to bringing individuals or opportunities, I should say, into your ranks by giving them the ability to focus on other things,” our law enforcement analyst said Larry Boone.
Across town, Captain Billy Zelms of the Virginia Beach Police Department showed me how seamless their technology works.
He said that over the past 18 months they have been working to make their work more efficient.
VBPD employs a wide range of technologies – from the fully integrated body and vehicle cameras that house their license plate readers, to their e-ticketing systems, shotspotters and even the Milo simulation training system that puts officers in real-life situations ahead of them in the real world.
Recently, their body cam footage helped them question a suspect’s testimony regarding an officer’s shooting.
“It is critical that we are able to provide the appropriate review for ourselves and provide answers to the community by showing them what happened and what our officials were doing at the moment,” said Captain Billy Zelms of the Virginia Beach Police Department.
And there’s no doubt that all of this technology is designed to help police in their day-to-day tasks, but as departments across the country work to address officer shortages, the question remains, can it replace the work of actual police officers?
“Technology will help them get their jobs done. But ultimately it will be our officers, the human being, and how they react, think and communicate and in situations that will have the greatest impact on the community and safety of those around them,” said Captain Zelms.
Some parishes and departments are still working to find the right balance.
“Technology is here to stay, as you know, it’s only going to get better, but you need to be held accountable, okay, you need to be held accountable,” Boone said. “Because at the end of the day, okay, there’s no job more powerful than a police officer. And we must be held to the utmost accountability.”
When they spoke to all of these departments, they told me that they are working on installing even more technology – such as B. Real-time crime centers and more virtual reality training, not only to prepare more officers for patrols, but also as a way to attract, recruit and retain the talent they need.