Much has changed in the police over the past decades. For instance, their mission is not only to enforce law, but also to actively serve the community and maintain general order. Despite all the major and minor changes, police patrols perform more or less the same activities and duties as twenty or thirty years ago. The difference being that today their work can be much more effective than in the past.
Imagine a working day of a police officer back in the 1980s. Probably the tool they used the most was a notepad. During the morning briefing, they took notes of their tasks for the day, the area they were assigned to, people they were supposed to check or bring to the police station for interviewing, and so on. In addition to the work assignments, they also received on paper a list of wanted persons or a current list and description of stolen vehicles.
Whether they patrolled on foot or in a police car, the only technological gadget that the police officers of the 1980s had available was a radio. When they wanted to check the identity or records of a person, they had to contact the dispatch centre operator, who often had to search for the information in huge paper card-index files.
Such queries were both time consuming and incomplete, since it did not allow the physical appearance of the person to be checked. The patrol coordination was also ineffective. The operator at the dispatch centre did not have a detailed overview of the current positions of individual units. All the information from citizens’ reports had to be interpreted orally, which sometimes led to misunderstandings and inaccuracies.
Let’s now move three decades forward and compare how police work can look today with the use of current technology. Modern day police officers no longer need notepads, because all the information they need is on their tablets.
And importantly, information flows both ways. Every police officer has working instructions as well as an overview of the current situation and reports available electronically. At the same time, the dispatch centre is constantly informed about the whereabouts and possibly also about the current activities of each patrol.
The information flow and coordination is much faster than in the past. When a citizen calls the 112 emergency number, the system automatically fills in some information about the caller and the operator can immediately send all the information to the nearest patrol, including any multimedia content that people tend to send to the integrated rescue system.
Digitalization has also significantly improved one of the most typical police activities: person authentication. All the police officers have to do is to hold the document against a special scanner able to read contact chip and RFID chip cards as well as the MRZ (Machine Readable Zone) used in ID cards, and the system automatically searches all relevant connected databases.
As a result, the police officer immediately has all the information available about the person in the police databases, including the database of persons wanted in the Schengen area. Today, every police officer can have a simplified form of such a reader on their ordinary mobile phones.
One of the most beneficial technologies for the police is the mobile equipment of motorized units for automatic license plate recognition (ALPR), which is able to capture the license plates of passing cars and check them against multiple databases. With this technology, motorized patrols are “working” even when they are only moving from one place to another. This helps them increase the theft detection rate and do things like more effectively identify fleeing vehicles.
Of course, digitalization and the connection to various databases also make day-to-day road traffic checks more effective. By simply entering the license plate number into their mobile phones, police officers can immediately find out all the information about the vehicle available in the police records.
Another useful feature of such a smart police car is its ability to record and stream video from the built-in camera to the dispatch centre. The operator can thus see what is happening in front of the vehicle in real time, and the camera records can also be used as evidence when checking if police conduct was in accordance with the law.
Unlike in the past, in today’s modern police forces using advanced technologies, officers do not have to fill out reports after their shift. The system tracks and records a police officer’s movement, the time, the location, and number of people and license plates checked throughout their duty. The benefit of such automatic reporting is not only reduced paperwork but also the potential for additional criminal investigations in which a wealth of information can be retrieved and processed ex post.
These examples of modern tools and new ways of working demonstrate that the technologies of today provide law enforcement agencies with possibilities that would not so long ago have been unimaginable or considered science fiction. At the same time, technologies can make the police operations much more effective, because they speed up and automate many activities and improve awareness and coordination.