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Editorial Advisory Board: Baltimore police should make full use of new technologies

We are in a transition phase regarding policing in America.

Throughout the history of policing, much of the citizen and officer contact has been by way of face-to-face interactions requiring both a citizen willing to concede to the authority of an officer and a police officer who is willing to engage. Due to public sentiments concerning policing, overall fewer citizens are applying to be police officers; some estimates claim, of those who do apply, only about 2% are ultimately able to enter the ranks.

Baltimore city is at the epicenter of the issue concerning policing and is one of thousands of police departments nationwide looking to take from the pool of available candidates.

It is hard to find and retain police officers, but the Baltimore City Police Department, for example, has started a process in which technology is being used to advance investigations with satisfactory results. At this time the police department responds to shot spotter alerts whereby devices placed around the city listen for gun shots and attempt to pinpoint the location where the shots were fired.

The police department uses both vehicle-mounted and stationary license plate reader technology to track vehicles used in crimes and vehicles taken during carjackings and other incidents. The police department uses body-worn cameras to preserve information such as interviews with citizens and police procedure.

There are several other forms of technology being used by the Baltimore City Police Department that assist detectives and officers in their day-to-day operations as well as ongoing investigations.

The use of these data collection devices conjures up images of a big brother state watching our every move, but at the same time it greatly reduces the need for police officers to directly engage citizens and it reduces the need for large numbers of officers to remain within a community, a practice some citizens liken to an occupying army.

The overarching benefit to both the citizens and the police is that the use of technology in many forms is constitutionally compliant, in that often the listed forms of data collection gather data that is openly displayed to the public by the actor, and the use of technology greatly reduces the demand and need for officers to perform every investigative task.

In addition, jurors are very open and receptive to evidence collected by way of modern devices such as the shot spotter and license plate readers. Although technology cannot be a substitute for police officers there can be no doubt that the ability to gather and use information makes every single police officer far more effective.

We would recommend that the police commissioners look to technology as a means of balancing a citizen’s right to be free from police intrusion with the need to have a police force sufficiently prepared to investigate crime and secure the convictions of those who are guilty, regardless of the number of suitable hires available at any given moment.

We have learned that many forms of technology available to the police department are limited in use to fewer than half of the police districts. The mere fact that their use is limited is concerning considering all the benefits: the proven track record of said technologies and their ability to alleviate the need for officers at a time when departments are having a hard time locating and retaining enough qualified officers.

There was a time when Baltimore was at the forefront of using technology to advance the aim of crime control.  Baltimore was one of the first cities in the nation to install and use gas lighting, in part, to light the dark streets at night and reduce criminal activity.

Now is a time for Baltimore and other departments to move away from their heavy reliance on officers and more readily provide to those who do choose to enter and remain within the profession of policing the technology to address crime in the modern world.

Editorial Advisory Board members Arthur F. Fergenson, Nancy Forster and Leigh Goodmark did not participate in this opinion.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Gary E. Bair

Andre M. Davis

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Leigh Goodmark

Roland Harris

Michael Hayes

Julie C. Janofsky

Ericka N. King

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

H. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.