Forget about stun guns and body cams; the next generation of police gadgets are designed to prevent police from ever being in the line of fire, while helping save lives. Police and sheriff's departments across the country are investing in new tools that employ the latest in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to protect law enforcement and the public. They may even ultimately save money.
There are a number of new gadgets that sound like something out of James Bond: gunshot detection systems from a company called Shotspotter that can pinpoint the exact source of a gunshot. A system from a company called Starchase shoots GPS-enabled darts to attach to, and then track, vehicles fleeing from the site of a crime.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been investing in a range of new tools, said Captain Jack Ewell, no matter what the cost of the technology — if it saves lives, it's worth it.
"We have been using technology and robotics for years, but the technology improves almost on a daily basis, so we use it more now than we ever have before. The robots are better; they function better; they do more things that they couldn't do in the past. The costs have actually come down, and they're indispensable," Ewell said.
One of the newest types of technologies the LA County Sherriff's Department has been deploying is unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with cameras, customized by drone company DJI. These remote-control aerial vehicles give law enforcement eyes from above to help with everything from bomb threats to search-and-rescue, hazmat spills and active-shooter situations.
It's not just about eyes in the sky; they use robotic land cameras from Robotext to navigate into dangerous situations — they can even open doors — to send real-time video back to law enforcement a safe distance away. There are even underwater robots to help find lost divers or assist with chemical spills.
"We used it in a situation, a tactical situation where someone was firing a hgh-powered rifle into a community," Ewell said. "We were able to use this technology in conjunction with other technology to see exactly where that gunman was and at a certain point in time to be able to safely approach that person and ensure that there was no more gunfire."
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Captain Ewell says the technology even saves the lives of criminals, by minimizing situations in which law enforcement might have to shoot. "It protects public safety personnel, and it also protects the public, which is the most important aspect [of our use of technology], but there's one aspect people don't think about sometimes," he said. "In addition, it actually protects criminals in many situations. We're able to see that a criminal is armed at a distance, and so we don't have to confront them close up, where a shooting could occur, where he could get hurt. That gives us some extra time and distance to be able to try and talk the person down, calm him down, and safely resolve SWAT situations by using this technology."
And back at the station, there's another type of technology in use. Powerful software from start-up Mark43 helps police file reports and keep and study statistics. The start-up, backed by Jeff Bezos' Bezos Expeditions and former military general and CIA Director David Petraeus, among others, reports that it's saved more than 250,000 hours of work for police in Washington, D.C., alone.
And the less time and money spent on filing paperwork, the more time and money that can be spent on public safety.