Role of Technology in Law Enforcement

Remarkable new digital technologies are transforming the ways police protect and serve, allowing agencies to prevent crimes more effectively and solve crimes faster. There is need for keeping pace with technologies that assist law enforcement globally and adopt them, as suited to Indian environment.

Issue: 4 / 2018By Lt General P.C. Katoch (Retd)Photo(s): By Mesa County Sheriff’s Department
A Draganflyer X6 UAV used by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department unmanned operations team. As the technological capabilities of drones increase, their use for law enforcement is expanding into gathering key information about crimes as they unfold.

Nearly every aspect of our lives, activity and industry has been transformed by technology over the last few decades. Law enforcement technology is one example of advancements that have changed the way law enforcement professionals investigate crimes. The sanctioned and actual strength of police personnel at all-India level per one lakh population is 181.47. On July 26, 2016, Parliament was told India was short of more than half a million police officers; there were 17.2 million police officers across 36 states and union territories, when there should have been 22.6 million – an officer for every 547 Indians as sanctioned strength, but the number was one for every 720. While more police do not necessarily mean less crime, but technology in today’s world is essential for law enforcement and crime resolution. Besides, technology does compensate for poor population to police ratio to some extent.

Police reforms in India have been slow; technology is catching up but in spurts. Remarkable new digital technologies are transforming the ways police protect and serve, allowing agencies to prevent crimes more effectively and solve crimes faster. There is need for keeping pace with technologies that assist law enforcement globally and adopt them, as suited to Indian environment.

Surveillance and Monitoring

  • CCTV. Common in most metros in India. These effectively assist law enforcement provided they are functional. For example, in the recent case in NOIDA a veteran Army Colonel was beaten up, arrested, handcuffed and tortured on fraudulent charges by an ADM, Muzaffarnagar and his wife on fake charges under the SC/ST Act, the officer was granted bail during the first hearing after six days because CCTV footage clearly showed the highhandedness of the ADM, his aides and the police. CCTV cameras along roads ant toll barriers have also helped solve crimes by examining movement of suspects. Same is the case in CCTV coverage of areas like market places that can identify suspects including suspicious activity like planting bombs/IEDs.
  • Drones. Law enforcement agencies are using drones for a variety of functions providing cost-effective solutions. They can provide real-time information to police and crime analysts vital information about crimes in progress and dangerous situations, as they unfold. It can help police better plan responses and save lives. Drones can capture and even live stream video and images of crimes as they occur, providing crucial evidence in future court proceedings. Helping in potentially dangerous situations and areas where police officers cannot reach, drones have replaced helicopters for monitoring and surveillance. Unmanned drones can help everything from rescue missions, patrolling borders, finding lost personnel, monitoring large gathering and processions, etc. As the technological capabilities of drones increase, their use for law enforcement is expanding into gathering key information about crimes as they unfold.
  • Body-Worn Cameras and In-Car Videos. Police officers in some countries use body-worn cameras for better evidence documentation, increased accountability and transparency. However, the costs of implementing bodyworn cameras besides the cost of cameras, include ancillary equipment like tablets, data storage and management, training, administration, and disclosure. At the same time, their usage faces issues like privacy, police versus community concerns, data retention and public disclosure policies, and financial considerations.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS applications are continuing to expand into the law enforcement community. Using GPS technology, police can pinpoint the location of a call and determine the fastest and safest route to it, getting people the help they need more efficiently and timely. Police can record location of their traffic stops and crash investigations, and that information can be exported to maps to determine how enforcement efforts can be better focused on decreasing the occurrences of traffic crashes. GPS technology can also be used by crime analysts to help identify emerging trends in crime locations and help better plan for shift staffing and patrol assignments.
  • Automatic Tag and License Plate Readers. Mounted to the exterior of patrol cars, electronic tag readers are becoming more prevalent among larger departments and traffic-oriented agencies. Using cameras connected to vehicle information databases, electronic tag readers instantly analyze license plates on every vehicle that comes within their range of view.

Biometrics for Data Security and Identification

  • Biometrics and Hand-Held Fingerprint Scanners. Use of biometrics using unique biological traits such as fingerprints, retina scans, and DNA to identify individuals is rapidly increasing among law enforcement circles. As technology becomes cheaper, smaller, more portable and readily available, police are able to use handheld scanners to instantly identify individuals with criminal pasts. Scanners built into laptop computers provide added security to ensure no unauthorized person can gain access to sensitive intelligence and personal information. DNA databases and software continue to improve, reducing the time and the backlog that once served as major impediments to solving crimes.
  • Brain Fingerprinting. ‘Brainwave Science’ has developed technology that helps police establish guilt or innocence based on scanning brainwaves. Brain fingerprinting uses brain scans to capture how a crime suspect’s brain reacts when being questioned by police and determines whether a person being questioned remembers a particular item or situation. Police are then able to potentially identify or eliminate suspects based on these scan results.

Google Glass, HoloLens and Augmented Reality

Driving on national highways in India, one often observes mobile interceptors for speed checks by the police. Using software especially designed for Google Glass, police officers take photographs of traffic violations and instantly upload them to their police department’s system. The photograph captures the date, time and place that the picture was taken along with the license plate number. Even if the police don’t physically catch you, that speeding ticket may still be in the mail.

More advancements in technology are on the anvil. For example, as a policeman walks on patrol, his special glasses are recording and analyzing everything he sees. A built-in screen provides information about the businesses, homes, and vehicles he looks at, while facial recognition software provides real-time information about the people he passes, letting him know if anyone matches descriptions of someone wanted. With the advent of Google Glass, this is becoming a very real possibility. Both the software and the data for such a scenario is already available; facial recognition has been in existence for a decade, and simple smartphone apps are already provide an augmented reality experience using the phone’s camera. It is only a matter of time before officers on the street will be able to have built-in heads-up displays that provided them with a host of data to help them patrol more effectively and efficiently and keep them and their charges safe.

Use of Social Media

For law enforcement agencies and crime analysts, social media is proving itself to be a crucial criminal justice tool in gathering intelligence, locating clues and even screening candidates for employment. There have been numerous cases of police thwarting or solving crimes based on tips gleaned from social media posts, as also undetected crimes have been successfully prosecuted as a result of videos posted on social media. However, the potential of social media as a crime-fighting tool is only just beginning to be realized.

Predictive-Analytics Software

PredPol is a software developed in the US that can predict where and what time the next crime will probably occur. It helps find criminal patterns and behaviors and deploy police accordingly. PredPol is based on the observation that certain crime types tend to cluster in time and space. It takes daily feeds from each department’s Record Management System for the predicting engine, which is run once a day to create predictions for each beat, shift and mission type. Using this technology, police agencies have seen efficiencies in staffing shifts and dramatic cuts in crime.


Technology continues to advance and other careers in criminology and criminal justice. The New York City Police, in conjunction Microsoft Corporation, has deployed ‘Dashboard’, a domain awareness system that ties in data from host of available sources, including Computer Aided Dispatch, crime reports and criminal histories, maps and even cameras to provide instant access to real-time information, pictures and video about calls in progress. This comprehensive information is available to police officers and crime analysts at a glance, allowing them to formulate a response to any given call better. Our law enforcement agencies must aim for such type of domain awareness system, which should not be problematic given our prowess in information technology. The use of technology in criminal justice will continue to allow crime fighters to further their ability to serve and protect their respective communities. We must keep upgrading technology for better and quicker law enforcement.