The Next Generation of Policing

In a world of location-enabled law enforcement, science fiction is increasingly more science than fiction


In his 1956 short story “Minority Report,” adapted for film by Steven Spielberg in 2002, science fiction author Philip K. Dick describes a dystopian world in which law enforcement is based on the precognition of crime by three persons known as “precogs.” By punishing citizens before they commit crimes, not after, authorities reduce felonies by 99.8 percent and homicides by 100 percent.

Despite the rise of “predictive policing,” modern-day geospatial tools are far from clairvoyant, but they facilitate police work that’s intelligent—not omniscient.

And yet, in a world of location-enabled law enforcement, science fiction is increasingly more science than fiction, according to retired Chief of Police Lew Nelson, director of Global Law Enforcement Solutions and Industry Solutions Department manager at Esri.

“The future has started to arrive,” he said. “The Dick Tracy tools I read about when I was a kid? Those exist now.”

The following geospatial technologies are coming soon to a police department near you:

+ Mobile GIS: “Where technology is going is more and more mobile,” said policing technology expert David Roberts, senior program manager at the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “We’re going to see considerable development in equipping and empowering officers [with geospatial tools] in the field.”

+ Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): “It’s really hard not to [acknowledge] the value of [UAVs],” said Mike King, national law enforcement manager at Esri. “If we can use technology to … improve law enforcement’s ability to really be where the problems are, why would we not embrace that?”

+ Augmented reality: “Within the next five years, I think Google Glass will be standard issue,” said John Harvey, deputy director of support services at the Ogden Police Department in Ogden, Utah, who envisions augmented reality applications that officers can use to read license plates, search active warrants, and establish or verify identities.

+ Indoor GPS: “I see GIS moving inside buildings so we can track, for example, firefighters and first responders inside a burning building,” said Robert Austin, manager of Enterprise Applications Integration for the City of Tampa, Fla., who also predicts an increase in 3D mapping that incorporates building heights and subsurface materials.

+ ISR sensors: “They’re already using sensor devices in the forensics world,” said Cameron Smith, acting vice president for security solutions at Intergraph Government Solutions. “In fact, one of [our sister] companies, Leica Geosystems, has the ability to take a laser scanner and create a point cloud of a crime scene; you can actually plot the locations of everything at the crime scene … to help you determine what happened there.”

Featured image: Falcon UAV launched by Mesa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Derek Johnson

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