Critical Issues in Policing

Radar was introduced to traffic law enforcement in the late 1940s. In the 1960s–120 years after the inception of the modern era of policing–the federal government for the first time launched a concerted effort to foster the development and use of new technologies for the police. That effort had its roots in the 1964 presidential campaign when Republican candidate Barry Goldwater made crime a national political issue for the first time. Goldwater lost the election to Lyndon B. Johnson, but Johnson took two steps to lessen the nation’s concerns about street disorders and crime rates, which had doubled between 1940 and 1965.

First, he appointed the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice to examine the problem. In 1967, the Crime Commission produced a 308-page report that offered more than 200 recommendations, 11 dealing with police technology. The President’s Crime Commission found that “the nation’s criminal justice system suffered from a significant science and technology gap” (Gonzalez).

The commission reported: The President’s Crime Commission found that the nation’s criminal justice system suffered from a significant science and technology gap. The commission reported the scientific and technological revolution that has so radically changed most of American society during the past few decades has had surprisingly little impact on the criminal justice system. When the commission observed the police specifically, the police, with crime laboratories and radio networks, made early use of technology, but” most police departments could have been equipped 30 or 40 years ago” (Barker) as well as they are today.

Also, of all criminal justice agencies, the police traditionally have had the closest ties to science and technology, but they have called on scientific resources primarily to help in the solution of specific serious crimes, rather than for assistance in solving general problems of policing. Overall, the commission’s science and technology task force reported that many technological devices existed, either in prototype or on the market to help criminal justice agencies. Others deserved basic development and warranted further exploration.

But for many reasons, even available devices have only slowly been incorporated into criminal justice operations,” the police task force said in a statement that still has relevance today. “Procurement funds have been scarce, industry has only limited incentive to conduct basic development for an uncertain and fragmented market, and criminal justice agencies have very few technically trained people on their staffs. ” Perhaps the most far-reaching recommendations dealt with computerization and what came to be known as 911.

In years past, most local police departments had a simple “kill or be killed” philosophy when it came to fighting crime. Although lethal force was always considered a “last resort,” it was usually the only resort when words, batons and/or water cannons failed to pacify a suspect or disperse an unruly crowd. However, thanks to rapidly advancing technology, today’s law enforcement agencies often have a broad range of “non-lethal” or, more accurately, “less-than-lethal” weapons they can use to achieve desired results.

They can be kinetic, chemical or electronic, these tools give police the flexibility they need to respond with a level of force most appropriate to the situation at hand and avoid unintended casualties. These “non-lethal” weapons include: * Low-velocity kinetic rounds. These include rubber bullets, wax bullets and “beanbags,” all non-metallic projectiles intended to stun and/or immobilize a suspect through sheer force of impact. Although not intended to pierce skin, these weapons can be quite powerful at close range, resulting in serious bruising, broken bones and other injuries. * Sedative darts.

Like the tranquilizer darts that have been used for decades to incapacitate animals in zoos and wild animal parks, these weapons use a winged hypodermic needle to deliver a potent dose of fast-acting sedatives into a suspect’s bloodstream. Such darts can be fired from a variety of weapons, including a repeating crossbow, compressed-air rifle or electromagnetic pistol. Effectiveness depends on the size of the dose and the size/weight of the suspect.

* Chemical weapons. These include pepper spray, tear gas and other “exotic compounds law enforcement can use to incapacitate individuals or disperse rioters. In 2008, Israeli police used a chemical mist that smelled like rotting sewage for crowd control. ) The problem with most chemical weapons is that they cannot be easily controlled once dispersed and can affect innocent bystanders as easily as those to whom they have been directed.

* Electroshock weapons. Most popularly known as “Tasers,” these weapons send 50,000 volts through thin flexible wires attached to needle-like projectiles that can be fired at suspects up to 25 feet away. The voltage is enough to cause involuntary muscle contractions that will debilitate the suspect without causing pain. Some Tasers also have a “Drive Stun” feature that fires electricity directly into a suspect via physical contact, a method which is, by all accounts, quite painful. ) Despite an overall good safety record, these electroshock weapons have been implicated in a number of serious injuries and even deaths. Policing can be a dangerous job and therefore not for everyone. Some of the danger is physical; there is an ever-present possibility of attack or of being asked to perform physically taxing tasks.

Another kind of danger, though, is psychological and can come, as mentioned, from thoughts of the possibility of danger or, more likely, from the stresses of being exposed to negative events in the lives of others. When asked about stress, officers most frequently mention the police organization itself as a stressor. The need to make decisions on the streets or highways, but then to have those decisions so frequently questioned by the public, the media, and senior officers within the department, leads many officers to feel they are constantly under scrutiny for even the most routine activities.

Facing physical danger in a job does not mean you must see yourself as Superman or Wonder Woman. It means, though, that you must put fears aside to when you run into a situation in which others are running away, and consider the safety of others before your own. Each year, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) adds to its wall in Washington, DC, the names of officers throughout the country who were killed in the line of duty the previous year. For the past 10 years, the numbers have fluctuated from 169 in 1998 to 181 to 2007.

On the list are those killed feloniously, including those shot or attacked physically, and those whose deaths were accidental, perhaps in auto accidents while on duty either pursuing a suspect or killed while a suspect was fleeing other officers. Some officers drowned while trying to rescue people, some were attacked while serving civil restraining papers ordering people to leave their own homes. The danger of policing is sometimes questioned because a number of occupations are comprised of workers who die at higher rates than police officers. These occupations include fishing, logging, and piloting airplanes.

Yet these fields are dangerous in different ways; in these jobs worker deaths are likely to be the result of industrial accidents, whereas police are more likely to be killed intentionally or in situations that have gotten out of control but that, with the exception of the large number of traffic accidents, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be defined as accidents. While workers in other professions are expected to take precautions, such as undergoing special training or wearing safety equipment, none don a bullet resistant vest each day to counter the possibility that they might be shot at or stabbed by an assailant.