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Perceptions of Police Technology: A Look at America's Sentiment Toward the Future of Policing

 

Despite the headlines, protests, and occasional violence – most Americans aren’t as divided on their feelings regarding police as one would think.And there is another thing most agree on: reform.

Some analysts say reform is impossible or that it can be hard to track, but there is a way to help change the conversation and accountability for law enforcement in America. The solution could be technology.

We surveyed over 1,000 citizens and 20 law enforcement personnel about how they felt toward law enforcement and the technology being used. We also asked how well they thought current policing technology benefited public safety. From GPS location tracking to drones,keepreading to learn more about the technology being employed by law officials around the country.

 

Bridging the Gap 

Confidence in law enforcement

 

The U.S. may have a history of controversy regarding law enforcement – one that dates as far back as the 1960s and civil rights movement. Despite many highly publicized fatalities caused by law enforcement in recent years (and the protests that followed), one study found respect for police officers was at a 50-year high in 2016.

Americans may have respect for the work law enforcement does, but do they trust them when it comes to personal encounters? According to our results, Asian-Americans had the highest degree of faith in local law enforcement. More than 57 percent said they trusted local officers, and nearly 56 percent reported overall positive experiences with them. While slightly fewer Caucasian Americans (just over 56 percent) said they trusted their local law enforcement, nearly 63 percent reported having positive encounters with them.

While nonwhite sentiment toward law enforcement may be up in recent years, our survey found African-Americans exhibited the lowest amount of trust in their local law enforcement. They were also the most likely group to experience a negative situation with law enforcement. Research has shown that black people are more likely to get stopped by police, be arrested, and be wrongly convicted than any other race or ethnicity in the country.

 

Unseen Technology at Work

Aware of police technology

 

Advancements in technology can have a profound effect on the way law enforcement interacts with the communities around it – and these could be tools you aren’t even aware of.

Local law enforcement officials may not have space-age predictive tools to stop crimes before they occur,but they could be getting close. Crime mapping software programs can help officers recognize where (and when) crimes are more likely to occur – helping them to identify patterns and potentially get ahead of criminal activity. Drones are everywhere these days – from delivering packages to offering wireless internet hot spots – and law enforcement is even using them for anything from border patrol to finding missing children.

When we asked Americans how much they knew about the way law enforcement officials employed technology today, we found some major gaps in public awareness. While nearly 94 percent of law enforcement personnel were aware of body armor, only around 60 percent of civilians said the same. Less than 54 percent of civilians were aware of body cameras on officers, and under 51 percent were aware of tactical or mounted cameras. As more cities and states adopt body camera technology, research has shown fewer complaints and less violence between citizens and law enforcement.

Technology more than 3 in 4 American civilians don’t realize law enforcement could be using today? Drones, facial recognition technology, crime mapping, and GPS phone tracking. Half or more of cops were surveyed were equally unfamiliar with these emerging technologies. While some tech solutions (like body armor) may be more universally adopted, other softwares and tools (like New York City’s ‘Dashboard’, a crime mapping software) have been developed specifically for certain cities or states.   

 

Taking It Too Far With Technology

Sentiment towards invasive police technology

 

While some technology can increase accountability among law enforcement (and make people feel more comfortable when they’re around them), some technology can come off as pretty invasive.

The way law enforcement utilizes GPS cellphone-tracking technology varies across the country. In some states (including Texas, Michigan, and Nevada), no warrant is required for law enforcement officials to use location services provided by cellphone carriers to determine a person’s whereabouts. In other states, like California and Utah, warrants are required for all tracking services utilized by state law enforcement, and in places like Illinois and Indiana, warrants are required for real-time tracking (unless conducted by a federal agent).

Neither Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court have yet to rule on a nationwide law regarding the use of GPS tracking technology. According to surveyed civilians, law enforcement using cellphones to track their location was considered the most invasive technology.

Law enforcement had a different perspective, though. While officials rated the invasiveness of GPS tracking services a three out of five on our scale, the use of unarmed aircraft systems (drones) earned a 3.06. However, they were less likely to indicate body and mounted cameras as invasive compared to civilians, and body armor was rated the least invasive technology by law enforcement and civilians.

 

Feeling Safer

 Public tech and public safety

 

Most working Americans regularly experience a certain degree of stress – but when you add in the responsibility of public safety, it can be easier to understand why law enforcement may feel overworked, tired, and stressed. Technology doesn’t just help alleviate stress; it can also help keep personnel safe. Enhanced digital communication platforms could keep law enforcement connected and give them quicker access to photos and profiles of known criminals. New technology is even enhancing nonlethal weapons, making their use safer for personnel, bystanders, and even potential suspects.

A majority of Americans believed new technology helped increase public safety, regardless of race or ethnicity. Asian-Americans had the strongest response to police technology, with over 89 percent indicating they believed it would help local law enforcement maintain public safety. More than 80 percent of Caucasian and Hispanic respondents said the same, followed by nearly 3 in 4 African-Americans.

Multiracial or biracial Americans were the most conflicted about the potential impact of police technology, with roughly 2 in 3 indicating it would have a positive impact on public safety.

 

Assessing the Value of Technology

 The effect of police tech

 

Beyond the impact police technology can have on public safety, we asked American civilians and personnel how positive of an effect digitizing law enforcement had on their community.

According to both civilians and law enforcement, of the technology utilized by law enforcement officials today body cameras were almost universally seen as having a positive effect. While police unions in some cities have attempted to slow the adoption of body camera technology, studies have shown a majority of the police and public respond positively to the idea of body cameras. Some have even pointed out that the effective use of body camera technology could have a positive impact on police accountability – although more work may still be needed. Tactical or mounted cameras were seen in a similar light according to Americans, with around 71 percent of civilians and over 87 percent of law enforcement saying they had a positive effect on their community.

Another widely regarded technology solution was body armor. According to more than 93 percent of cops and nearly 61 percent of civilians, body armor was seen as having a positive effect on the community. While less than 1 in 3 civilians thought GPS tracking systems (or Stingrays) had a positive effect on their community, over 56 percent of law enforcement said they were a tool for good compared to roughly 1 in 10 who said they had an adverse effect.

 

The Political Divide

Police tech and politics 

 

As with most issues today, Republicans and Democrats were split on implementing certain police technologies. 

While a vast majority of Americans (regardless of political affiliation) supported the use of body cameras, mounted cameras, and body armor, they weren’t exactly able to agree on some key devices or software solutions. While more than half of Republicans supported the use of cellphone GPS tracking services, nearly 63 percent of Democrats were opposed to law enforcement using Stingrays. 

Despite this divide, warrantless GPS tracking has received bipartisan opposition. Ultimately, the bill failed to pass – no additional legislation has been introduced since. Our survey also revealed more Republicans were inclined toward officers using drone technology, while a majority of Democrats and people with “other” political affiliations opposed it.

 

Finding a Balance

Not every American had the same opinion on how well they trusted law enforcement or the technology they used. While some tools police employed in communities may still be shrouded in controversy, some technology (like body cameras and tactical armor) was largely regarded by law enforcement and civilians as being better for everyone’s safety. 

Understanding the technology law enforcement might be utilizing means understanding the local laws in place – the same is true for auto insurance. To know what you should be paying, you need to understand state laws regarding legal minimum coverage and regulations. At AutoInsuranceCenter.com, we’ve got you covered from all angles. Our goal is to help you find the right balance between quality coverage and affordability. Six minutes is all it takes to get your custom, no-obligation quote and save $400 on average. Visit us at AutoInsuranceCenter.com to learn more.

 

Methodology

We surveyed over 1,000 Americans about their opinions on police technology. Respondents were asked about their awareness of 10 upcoming or recently implemented law enforcement tools. They rated the technology that helps law enforcement better accomplish their duties, and their impact on the public’s safety and privacy. A separate roundtable discussion was held with 20 law enforcement personnel on the topic, as well.

 

Sources

 

Fair Use Statement

If you’re a journalist interested in covering this project, we encourage you to use any of the graphics included above for noncommercial purposes. We just ask that you attribute Auto Insurance Center fairly in your coverage and provide a link to this page, so your audience can learn more about our work. If you’d like to discuss this project or any of our other research, reach out to us at [email protected].

 

NOTE: If you're a journalist interested in covering this project, we encourage you to use any of the graphics included above. We just ask that you attribute Auto Insurance Center fairly in your coverage and provide a link to this page so that your audience can learn more about our work. If you'd like to discuss this project, or any of our other research, reach out to us at [email protected].