N Touch
Monday 19 November 2018
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Editorial

Hi-tech cops, but when?

At the opening of a conference on health, safety, security and the environment hosted by the American Chamber last week, National Security Minister Stuart Young said that technology was a valuable tool in the national arsenal in combating crime.

Young noted that technology "is not being fully utilised in TT on our national security landscape." He further posited that technology would help police officers regain the element of surprise.

He might actually achieve surprise on a national scale if the Ministry of National Security actually committed to a programme of sensible technology deployment, training and real-world support for police officers that represented a sustained and coherent initiative against crime. But the use of leveraging technologies in the response to crime remains firmly in the realm of the fanciful.

When such systems are actually put to use, it's happened in such isolated circumstances that its impact proves negligible. The intelligence gathering systems and staff of SAUTT apparently disappeared when the government changed, and the organisation fell into political disfavour.

CCTV systems have been spottily used, with unseemly fanfare that only created zones for criminals to avoid, resulting in little lasting impact. Officers continue to quietly resist the deployment of body cams, preferring, instead, to be issued more capable body armour.

There is no shortage of modern technologies which have been adapted, hardened or developed for the use of police officers working in difficult circumstances, but there is a clear need to push for the basics before seeking out cutting edge devices in any move to implement technology as a tool in policing. It's useless to dream of officers pulling up critical information on hand-held tablets in the field until that information is digitalised, in the case of legacy information, and captured digitally, for current data, and supported by an encrypted network that reaches officers where they work.

Dramatic improvements in technology deployment have been promised in the 2019 budget as part of the Public Sector Reform Computerisation Project, but supporting documents don't detail any significant allocation for the training that will be required to take information gathering, analysis and access for the 9,000-strong police force out of musty station logs and into the digital age.

The buzz emerging from the budget statement has been about body cameras and global positioning equipment, which represent the most basic understanding of technology's use in law enforcement, knowing what officers are doing and where they are.

There's no question that the national security minister's hopes for technology's promise are well-intentioned, but the points of failure haven't been in tech, they have been in the political will to choose a relevant deterrent and to deploy it effectively.

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