Balancing Safety and Privacy

November 27, 2019 by Meredith Trimble

Balancing Safety and Privacy

There’s no question that police officers and first responders benefit from mobile technology and apps. Mobility brings with it access to critical, real-time information from the field, resulting in increased officer and community safety.

But does mobility also present new concerns?

“Before you ever put digital technology into use, you need to make sure officers fully understand its advantages, its limitations, its potential for personal and professional liability, and you need to give officers a say in what the policy for this technology looks like,” noted Tod Burke, retired Maryland police officer and retired professor of criminal justice with Radford University.

Addressing officer and agency privacy concerns while delivering the benefits of constant connection via modern technology is the next step in truly smart, effective use of these tools.

The Case for Connectivity

Wearable technology, smartphones, and dedicated apps designed specifically for law enforcement keep officers constantly connected. This makes them more efficient, effective, and above all, safe. Certain technologies have specific, proven public safety benefits:

  • Smartphones and wearables help officers take notes, record witness accounts, photograph evidence, and communicate with team members and dispatchers from the field. Sensor technology in these devices greatly boost safety through gyroscope, GPS, accelerometer, heartrate monitor, and ambient light features, among others.
  • Mobility apps combine the power of these sensors with the technology back at headquarters. Apps not only provide utility for officers on the street, such as ones that can determine where a gunshot originated, they empower officers with information without radioing in to dispatch. When digital technology is paired with computer-aided dispatch and crime databases, officers have life-saving information and situational data at their fingertips.

Combating Privacy Concerns

With every technological advance comes pros and cons; device technology and apps are no exception. Privacy and safety concerns for officers and agencies are valid. Constant connections between officers and departments generate data, which leads to concerns about how the data may be used. Officers may worry about being tracked themselves, with personal information included health data being released. Agencies may be concerned about collecting volumes of sensitive data.

Steps to manage these concerns include:

  • Approach new technologies with the spirit of compromise, and let the officers have a voice in the implementation as well as the related policies.
  • Create policies that outline how and when the technology will be used and why.
  • Treat policies as living documents that continue to evolve.

Officers’ desire for a constant connection to police databases and dispatchers is only going to grow with time. The public, too, is expecting greater transparency and increased information. Emerging digital technologies are important in meeting these demands.

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