The Brave New World of Law Enforcement Investigation
The digital age has changed everything in the world around us and law Enforcement is no exception. Back in the old days, police investigation procedures were limited to talking with potential witnesses, taking lots of photographs, lifting fingerprints, forensic analysis of blood, and that sort of thing. Now law enforcement has investigation tools that make their job easier and make it harder for the criminal to “get away with it.” But these tools present their own dangers to the public. As civil rights advocates warn, the brave new world of law enforcement tools endanger our civil liberties. I will discuss why this may be so in my next post but today, let’s review just a few of the new age law enforcement tools.
We might begin with DNA analysis, which was no doubt the first huge law enforcement tool of the digital age. We are all familiar with DNA analysis, but it’s pretty amazing to think that it has only been around since the mid-1980s. DNA has proven to be a very effective law enforcement tool and on the flip side, DNA evidence techniques have freed individuals who were wrongly convicted of a crime.
How about this one: Did you know that every time you drive down almost any road in Orange County, a photo is snapped of your vehicle, including the license plate number, at various intervals? Across the nation, including Orange County, police use automatic cameras to scan and take digital photographs of vehicles as they travel along our country’s roads and highways. The photographs go into a searchable digital data base, which law enforcement can access to locate a criminal suspect. I have had cases where a criminal suspect was almost immediately located after the police utilized this database. The photographs are taken continuously thereby making it easy to determine a suspect’s current whereabouts if law enforcement knows the suspects license plate.
Here’s another one: Every time you use your cellular phone it is networking through the nearest cellular tower. The police are able to subpoena cellular tower records to determine if a criminal suspect was in the area at the time of the crime. The criminal courts are full of cases where the defendant denied being in the area of the crime at the time of the crime but cellular tower records indicate that the defendant’s phone was being used near the time and scene of the crime.
And what about drones? Police agencies are starting to introduce these tiny flying objects equipped with cameras and more in their arsenal of crime-fighting tools. Indeed, several Southern California law enforcement agencies are already planning to employ drones; I will talk about this in a later post. Most law enforcement agencies maintain that the drones will be used for purposes of search and rescue and that sort of thing but there is really no question that drones will soon be used to enforce the law. Indeed, North Dakota is the first state in the nation to “weaponize” drones. Last August, that state made it legal for law enforcement to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons such as rubber bullets, tasers, and tear gas.
One of the more recent techniques the police have utilized is facial recognition. This truly enters a “brave new world.” With facial recognition, the police are able to digitally match up a facial photograph in a database (say the DMV database) with a photograph taken of a suspected criminal. For example, a security camera gets a grainy photograph of a crime; the police can zoom in on faces in that photograph and digitally scan photographs in another database to find photographs in the database that might be a match. This is ringing the Constitutional alarms but I will discuss that in my next post.
These examples barely scratch the surface; there are many other digital crime fighting tools, some of which are truly amazing. Yes, indeed, for better or worse, it is a brave new world.
With almost 25 years experience in criminal defense, William Weinberg is available to consult with you regarding any criminal matter. You can reach him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.orgCalifornia Law