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Back to Archives | Back to February 2011 Contents 

Technology Talk

Technology’s Impact on Law Enforcement—Community Interaction

By David J. Roberts, Senior Program Manager, IACP Technology Center

Editor’s note: This column is the second of two columns about technology’s role in policing. The first column, which examined the role of technology in the lives of law enforcement officers and the operations of law enforcement agencies, appeared in the January 2011 issue of Police Chief magazine.

echnology is facilitating closer and more collaborative relationships between law enforcement and the community. The explosive growth and technological sophistication of smartphones and the surging popularity of social networking sites have empowered the general public and raised expectations regarding services provided by law enforcement, the ability to communicate with police, and the transparency of the organization.

Law enforcement agencies are increasingly adopting Web 2.0 and social networking technologies to facilitate communication and information sharing with members of the public.1 In a recent survey of law enforcement chief executives, the IACP Center for Social Media reports that 81 percent of 728 respondents use social media—two-thirds (66.8 percent) of whom use Facebook (see figure 1).2

Law enforcement reported using social media for a variety of functions, including crime investigations (62.3 percent); notifying the public of crime problems (44.0 percent) or emergency situations (40.3 percent); community outreach and citizen engagement (40.6 percent); crime prevention activities (40.5 percent); and soliciting tips on crime (40.0 percent) (see figure 2).

The omnipresence of smartphones with Internet connectivity means that citizens are increasingly able to report crime and other public safety incidents in real time.3 Moreover, given the digital multimedia recording capabilities of many smartphones and the mobile data sharing capabilities of broadband networks, citizens have increasingly captured video images of public safety incidents that can be shared with law enforcement, the media, and the community at large. Market research indicates that half of all mobile users in the United States use their mobile phones to take pictures (50.6 percent) and nearly one in five (19.2 percent) use their phones to take videos.4 The Next Generation 9-1-1 system is being designed to enable emergency calls from any networked device and to incorporate useful forms of information sharing including real-time text, images, video, and other data.5

Technology is also enabling better communication between government agencies and the general public in emergency situations. The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for example, is being designed to enable local, state, and federal authorities to provide emergency alerts and notification to the general public through multiple communications channels.6

Technology, of course, is a double-edged sword.

The law enforcement agency must manage an increasingly complex array of technologies while ensuring effective planning, procurement, and implementation. The technical challenge is further amplified as the agency integrates diverse technologies across different platforms, builds a robust and secure technical infrastructure, provides initial and ongoing training, plans technology upgrades and refreshes, and organizes around-the-clock technical support for mission critical systems.

It is not just the technology in the field that the agency must support, but also what is on the desktops of personnel throughout the agency, including sophisticated case management systems, analysis and mapping applications, imaging solutions, and communications technologies. Organizational structure and management practices play a critical role in realizing the value of technology. Research underscores the basic fact that technology investments produce increases in clearance rates and other measures of law enforcement productivity improvement only when agencies have implemented complementary organizational changes and management techniques, such as CompStat.7

The proliferation of technology requires that law enforcement agencies monitor, adopt or develop, and enforce policies regarding proper use and implementation. The IACP Center for Social Media, for example, found that while only 35.2 percent of responding departments had a formal policy addressing social media, 23.2 percent were in the process of developing a policy.8 The IACP recently approved a Social Media Model Policy,9 and other model policies addressing a range of technologies (for example, license plate readers, digital cameras, electronic recording of interrogations and confessions, and less-lethal weapons) are available through the IACP’s National Law Enforcement Policy Center.10

Financial support for technology, which may initially have been purchased with federal funding, also frequently represents a challenge when agencies find themselves responsible for ongoing maintenance and support of sophisticated technologies.11 The financial burden facing law enforcement agencies extends to hardware and software maintenance and support contracts, migration to new versions of hardware and software, security enhancements to support mobile information sharing, and replacement and repair costs associated with supporting the use of technology in a dynamic operational environment.

The economic climate confronting most local and state jurisdictions raises the stakes even higher. Many agencies are laying off officers, closing substations, terminating programs, postponing training and recruitment, and eliminating technology purchases and upgrades.12 Moreover, the financial crisis is having a rippling effect throughout state and local government economies, where cuts in mental health and other state and local programs and efforts to accelerate the early release of prisoners in response to budget shortfalls increasingly translates into greater demands for police services.13


Technology offers an ever-expanding array of benefits in policing by enhancing the efficiency of operations and the effectiveness of programs, empowering the officer in the field, expanding officers’ investigative and analytic capabilities, improving community perception of safety, and supporting enterprise-wide information sharing capabilities. It is also important to recognize that the fundamental business practices of a law enforcement agency play a crucial role in realizing the potential benefits of technology. Technology, however, is competing with many other operational priorities facing law enforcement agencies throughout the nation and around the world, so police executives must be able to demonstrate the tangible business value of technology by measuring and managing performance, documenting improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, and generating an appropriate return on investment.14

Reaching agreement on what is an appropriate return on investment and how to quantify those measures, however, is a challenge. As Gascón and Foglesong note, “Police departments today have to develop a new and different kind of bottom line, one that resonates with the communities most in need of safety and justice.”15

The IACP Law Enforcement Information Management (LEIM) Section provides law enforcement executives, information technology managers, and technology specialists with a forum in which to share information, best practices, and lessons learned regarding state-of-theart law enforcement information management; communications; interoperability; technology standards; and information sharing, analysis, and fusion. The LEIM Section comprises more than 1,100 chiefs and information technology professionals from agencies of all sizes, jurisdictions, and geographies. Every state in the United States is represented, as are five Canadian provinces and eighteen other nations, ranging from Australia to the United Kingdom.

The IACP Technology Center functions as a comprehensive resource for law enforcement agencies and IACP members in planning, implementing, and managing technology to improve public and officer safety; enhancing the effectiveness of operations and the efficient use of resources; and supporting and encouraging the professional development of law enforcement personnel, public safety agencies, and IACP members. In addition, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice offers training and technical assistance services to law enforcement and other justice agencies across a broad spectrum of topics and venues, including online webinars, office-based technical assistance, peer-to-peer visits, on-site studies and training, distance learning, and related services.16


1The IACP has recently initiated a project, Web 2.0: Community Policing Online in the 21st Century, with funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, to build the capacity of law enforcement to use Web 2.0 tools to prevent and solve crimes, strengthen police-community relations, and enhance services. See
2More details regarding findings of the September 2010 survey of IACP members can be found at Summary results of the survey were presented in “IACP Center for Social Media: Supporting the Needs of Law Enforcement
Online,” The Police Chief 77 (December 2010): 86–87, (accessed January 4, 2011).
3Market research indicates that by the third quarter of 2010 (3Q10), approximately 28 percent of mobile users in the United States have adopted smartphones. That figure is expected to continue to climb, with smartphone sales growing globally by 96 percent between 3Q09 and 3Q10. Source: “Smartphone Usage around the World . . . Who Uses It More and Why,” Adzookie, (accessed January 4, 2011).
4comScore, “comScore Releases First Comparative Report on Mobile Usage in Japan, United
States, and Europe,” press release, October 7, 2010, (accessed January 4, 2011).
5More information about the Next Generation 9-1-1 Initiative can be found on the IACP’s technology web pages:; and at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Intelligent Transportation Systems, RITA website:
6More information regarding the IPAWS program can be found at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FEMA website:
7Luis Garicano and Paul Heaton, “Information Technology, Organization, and Productivity in the Public Sector: Evidence from Police Departments,” Journal of Labor Economics 28 (January 2010): 167–201.
8“IACP 2010 Social Media Survey Results,” 10,
9The IACP Social Media Model Policy is available online at
10“Model Policies,” IACP, (accessed January 4, 2011).
11A national evaluation of the COPS program after four years indicated that law enforcement agencies “experienced extra costs due to the new technology” (Jeffrey A. Roth and Joseph F. Ryan, The COPS Program after 4 Years—National Evaluation (Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, August 2000), 13). In addition, the authors note that “three categories of cost have been especially problematic for agencies funded for mobile computers, especially those pursuing wireless field reporting. These are upgraded telecommunications capacity; integration of field reporting with existing (or developing) records management systems; and vehicle mounts, which were frequently designed from scratch” (Ibid.,13–14).
12For example, “Newark Finalizes 167 Police Layoffs after Union Refuses Booker’s Plea to Return to Negotiating Table” The Star-Ledger, November 30, 2010, (accessed January 4, 2011); and Terry Collins, “Police Layoffs Hit Oakland, One of the Nation’s Most Crime-Ridden Cities,” Christian Science Monitor, July 17, 2010, (accessed January 4, 2011). Other law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are struggling with similar economic shortfalls and are laying off sworn officers or outsourcing police services. For example, see Bobby White, “Half Moon Bay Faces Financial Brink,” Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2010, (accessed January 4, 2011). Further, “[f]ifty-one percent of police departments nationwide suffered an average cut of 7 percent in their budgets between the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, according to a new survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).” See PERF, “Survey Reveals Extent of Police Budget Cuts,” press release, September 30, 2010, (accessed January 4, 2011).
13Katie Zezima, “State Cuts Put Officers on Front Lines of Mental Care,” New York Times, December 4, 2010, (accessed January 4, 2011).
14Tony Veneziano, “The Business of Policing: Managing for Value,” The Police Chief 77 (June 2010): 38–40, (accessed January 4, 2011); Julio Valcarce, “Maryland’s Pursuit of the Paperless Patrol Car: Using Mobile Technology to Foster Interagency Collaboration and Improve Officer Safety,” The Police Chief 76 (June 2009): 22–26, (accessed January 4, 2011); Chris Kanaracus, “Memphis Cops Use Predictive Analytics to Fight Crime,”, July 21, 2010, (accessed January 4, 2011); and David J. Roberts, Law Enforcement Tech Guide for Creating Performance Measures That Work: A Guide for Executives and Managers (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2006).
15George Gascón and Todd Foglesong, Making Policing More Affordable: Managing Costs and Measuring Value in Policing, New Perspectives in Policing (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Kennedy School/NIJ, December 2010), 17, (accessed January 4, 2011).
16More information regarding the BJA National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) can be found on, via e-mail at, or by telephone at 202-347-5610 or 888-347-5610.

Please cite as:

David J. Roberts, "Technology's Impact on Law Enforcement—:Community Interaction," Technology Talk, The Police Chief 78 (February 2011): 78-82.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 2, February 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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