Stunning New Technology in Law Enforcement
By KRISTEN STERNBERG | NIE Educational Consultant
Deputies in the Volusia County Sheriff's Office recently tested some stunning new technology. During the field test, law enforcement officers carried Taser guns, weapons that shoot not bullets but 50,000-volt electrical charges. (Follow the link above to learn how they're used.) Tasers are just one example of new technology designed to help officers in Florida and across the nation. For example, police in Holly Hill are making use of new, two-way pagers with features such as e-mail, fax and database retrieval.
Volusia County sheriff's helicopter Air One hovers above the ground using its night sun light and the FLIR system. (Photo: News-Journal/Nigel Cook)
Many people agree new technology can help officers do their jobs more safely and efficiently, but others see it as a dangerous trend. In Tampa, video cameras scan public streets for fugitives, for instance, but the devices record visual information about everyone—wanted or not. A new, helicopter-mounted camera used recently in Flagler County allows officers to identify people hiding in the dark by sensing the heat from their bodies. Other devices are able to sense people moving around inside houses.
Individuals, along with agencies like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), see many of these tools as potential invasions of privacy. In America, citizens and residents are guaranteed certain freedoms by the United States Constitution. Specific freedoms are outlined in the Bill of Rights, an important historical document containing the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
At the center of this debate is the Fourth Amendment, which ensures that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…." In effect, the amendment states officials must have a court-issued warrant in order to search or take a person's property. They must show a reason for believing a person has committed a crime before taking steps to search individuals or property. An editorial published recently in the Daytona Beach News-Journal voiced concern about the possible misuse of such technology. With devices like heat sensing, or thermal imaging cameras, the editorial states, "We may be headed for a society in which every move and every word can be monitored and recorded."
Thermal imaging and infrared (such as night vision) tools have already been used to spy into buildings without a search warrant. Sensitive microphones have eavesdropped on private conversations. Internet activities like e-mailing and surfing have been monitored and recorded. While most people support new technology designed to help officers catch fugitives and reduce crime, they also value their own right to privacy. Do you think citizens, law enforcement officers and government agencies will be able to strike a balance between using potentially intrusive technology and safeguarding citizens' rights?
By the way, the amendment that allows this author to write and publish the words you are reading is also a part of the Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are guaranteed in the very first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Try these interesting activities using The Daytona Beach News-Journal
1. While citizens and residents in the U.S. are already protected by many laws, sometimes legislation cannot change quickly enough to keep pace with new developments in technology. In addition to law enforcement, cell phone use and the Internet are areas that many say need regulating. Select one of these topics and use The News-Journal and other resources to design a public service ad showing what, if any, related legislation is in process and how you feel about the issue. Try to display your ad in a public place to educate others. (Sunshine State Standards SC.H.3.2.1, SC.H.3.2.4, SS.A.2.2.4, SS.A.4.2.4, SS.C.1.2.1, SS.C.1.2.2, SS.C.1.2.4, SS.C.1.2.5, SS.C.2.2.1, SS.C.2.2.2, SS.C.2.2.3, SS.C.2.2.4, SS.C.2.2.5)
A Ponce Inlet Officer uses a night-vision scope. (Photo: News-Journal/Nigel Cook)
2. To help law enforcement officers perform their jobs better, new technology is constantly being developed. What do you think the police force of the future will be like? Write an imaginary newspaper column about your career as a law enforcement officer 20 years from now. Be sure to consult The News-Journal first, for ideas on how to style your column. (Sunshine State Standards SC.H.3.2.4, SS.C.1.2.4, SS.C.2.2.1, SS.C.2.2.2, SS., SS.C.2.2.3, SS.C.2.2.4, SC.H.3.2.1)
3. Use The News-Journal to read a report of an arrest or other incident in which law enforcement officers intervened. Brainstorm the devices officers probably used to resolve the incident. Study News-Journal editorial cartoons, then create one of your own to show your opinion of the equipment used or not used. Sunshine State Standards: SS.C.1.2.4, SS.C.2.2.2, SS.C.2.2.3)
4. Advances in technology are making an impact in more areas than law enforcement. Search The News-Journal's Help Wanted section to find job vacancies for a career you're interested in. Read the listings to determine what technology skills are required for the position. Then, speak to a librarian, school media specialist or other adult about opportunities available for students interested in a career in that field. (Sunshine State Standards SC.H.3.2.1, SC.H.3.2.2)
5. Over a period of several days, find and read arrest reports as published in The News-Journal. Record the number of incidents on a chart using the following headings or others of your choosing: illegal substances, driving violations, theft or burglary, domestic incidents and violent crime, technology used. After you have recorded the arrests onto your chart, determine which heading has the most entries. Be prepared to discuss how law enforcement technology might play a role in reducing crime of that type. (Sunshine State Standards SC.H.3.2.1, SC.H.3.2.3, SC.H.3.2.4, SS.C.1.2.4, SS.C.1.2.5, SS.C.2.2.2, SS.C.2.2.3, SS.C.2.2.4, SS.C.2.2.5)
A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at intech2000.miamisci.org/.
Check out these links to learn more
The Volusia County Sheriff's Office provides an interesting site with news about local law enforcement. Take a look at Community Programs like 199 Deputies - 100 Kids, Crime Prevention and Neighborhood Crime Watch. Don't forget to find out what the Sheriff's Office has adopted as a mascot. www.volusia.org/Sheriff/relate.htm
Derek, 12, takes a look at the inside of the cockpit of VCSO's Air-One. (Photo: News-Journal/Peter Bauer)
Visit Flagler County's Sheriff's Office for another source of information. Learn about opportunities with the Police Athletic Commission and the Crime Stoppers program by following links in the section for Kids. www.myfcso.com/
You'll find the most complete set of links to Florida Law Enforcement Sites, including Sheriff's Offices and Police Departments around the state. www.floridasmart.com/information/flwebs/lawenforcement.htm
One of the most important law enforcement agencies in the United States is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Check out the FBI's site designed especially for kids, with a virtual field trip, games and other activities. Fourth and fifth graders may visit www.fbi.gov/kids/k5th/kidsk5th.htm, while older students may prefer www.fbi.gov/kids/6th12th/6th12th.htm.
If you haven't read the Bill of Rights, take time to check out this important document now. memory.loc.gov/const/bor.html
Visit the American Civil Liberties Union on-line for an interesting journey into human rights issues. www.aclu.org/
To find out what other kinds of jobs there are in law enforcement, check out this portion of an online Occupational Outlook Handbook. www.bls.gov/oco/ocos160.htm
The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit the site and check some of them out, to see if they have recently published any articles on this topic. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state. Click on the "Internationals" button to view choices from other countries.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal NIE Program, published January 21, 2002