The Impact of Information Technology on Law Enforcement

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This paper reviews various information technologies used by law enforcement agencies such as CAD, MDT, CSS, mobile technologies and other state of the art technologies and their impact on law enforcement. It is already established that not many studies have been conducted on this topic and a very few offer quantifiable results. Hence in this paper I will try to present the point of views of carious researchers, as to whether information technologies do lead to a greater number of clearing and preventing criminal activities or not and if the cost associated with adopting and implementing information justified with the impact on the performance of law enforcement agencies. Also, whether the use of information technologies is all good or do they have a negative bearing too.


The world today is undergoing a substantial technological revolution, the heart of which is information technology. There is a common acceptance that information technology brings comfort and contributes to various features of our lives (Nunn and Quinet, 2002).

Our thought process has been radically changed by information technologies, our perceptions, attitudes, and even our community. Specifically, information technology has transformed the world into a global village by creating various diverse channels of communication all over the globe (Chan, 2001).

Gathering evidence and other information accurately and on time is crucial for the success of police investigations (Luen & Al-Hawamdeh, 2001). In the golden era, police officers worked with limited resources and heavily relied on instincts, extremely unambiguous evidence, hunches and downright confessions. To improve its chances of gathering accurate information, the police strategically utilize information technology for crime prevention and policing. Though these methods still remain relevant, as time has progressed, fingerprinting and DNA evidence has stretched the limits of prosecution and solving crime in general.

“Information is the lifeblood of the police” (Maltz, Freidman, and Gordon, 1991). Information technologies are imperative tools for criminal investigations and law enforcement due to the fact that they make creating, storing, retrieving and transferring investigation-related information quick and convenient (Gottschalk, 2007). Furthermore, by automating routine manual tasks, information technologies aid in reducing ineffective use of time used for criminal investigations (Eck, 1983; Folk, 1971).

Now a day, law enforcement officials use digital devices equipped with state of the art information systems to be able to collect and document evidence effectively and efficiently, intervene and prevent crimes as they happen and utilize sophisticated types of surveillance tools and techniques during investigation. New technological innovations are being developed and adopted to prevent crime and to enhance the performance of the police. It does not come as a surprise that advancements in technology have increased the amount of successful arrests and prosecutions.

Today, technology is enabling a closer and greater cooperative relationship between the community and law enforcement. The exponential growth in technological advancements of smartphones and the ever increasing popularity of social networking sites is empowering the general public and raising awareness and expectations pertaining to services provided by law enforcement, the transparency of the organization and the facility to communicate with police. Law enforcement agencies are progressively using the World Wide Web and social networking sites and technologies to enhance communication and sharing crucial information with the public.

However, we know very little about how and why some information technologies are adopted, and their consequences, both unintentional and intentional, due to technologically savvy solutions to prevent and stop criminal practices. Technology cuts as a trouble edged sword. Increased use of information technologies has led to storage of confidential data on police servers. Though these servers are meant to be safe and protected, cybercrimes, especially related to hacking, are on an all-time high. Such criminal activities jeopardize the confidentiality of these documents and information technologies consequently end up aiding the very crimes they were deployed to prevent. One such example of hacking is from February, 2005 when an information broker,Choice Point Inc., stated that an identity theft ring had hacked into its database and gained access to hundreds of thousands of personal documents. Some of the information that was stolen included full names, Social Security numbers, home addresses, and credit reports. Therefore, before hailing information technology we must examine both its negative and positive impacts.

In this era of rapid technological progresses, people spend a substantial amount of money on information technology to increase productivity in more or less all organization globally. However, the resulting efficiency in outputs through this investment is still a big cause for concern for both policymakers and investors (Malhotra & Galletta, 1999). Consequently, the financial bearing the law enforcement agencies have to implement new information systems become a cause for concern when the rise in productivity due to its usage in not implicitly quantifiable. Law enforcement agencies, being government agencies, have limited funding and must therefore weigh all their options and its pros and cons before finalizing and implementation any final course of action. The government has to weigh its options and determine whether investing in state of the art information technologies have a significant impact on the performance of police officers or would that money be better of invested somewhere else.

Literature review

Even a brief overview of the historical data available which shows the gradual development of law enforcement agencies’ attempts to stop crime highlights the fact that technology, to be more precise, technological innovations, have been a constant motivator which have led to the restructuring of crime prevention/control strategies by formal police agencies, individual citizens and concerned groups (Reichert, Chan, Harris 2001; Harris, 2007).

Goff and McEwen (2008) stated from 1995 to 2002 the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program allotted funds which “helped more than 4,500 law enforcement agencies acquire and implement technology in support of efficient police operations. The grants totaled more than 1.3 billion and funded crime fighting technologies that helped redeploy the equivalent of more than 42,000 full-time law enforcement professionals into community policing activities”.

Not many studies have been conducted which evaluate the impact of information technologies on law enforcement and the studies which do exist mostly disclose positive contributions of information systems to aiding law enforcement and police work. Numerous studies have examined the effect of crime analysis systems. In of the earliest studies, it was found that modus operandi systems can be beneficial in helping to identify criminals (Zavala and Mullen, 1970).

Danziger and Kraemer (1985) studied the impact of using computers on the performance of police detectives. The studies concluded that greater than 80% detectives said that they experienced information benefits from using computers, and almost two thirds of detectives indicated that computers assisted them in a few of their arrests and authorizations. Hauck and Chen (1999) and Chen (2003) assessed the performance of CSS, (Coplink Concept Space application), which helps police officers to determine relationships between numerous different kinds of information and they came to know that the application is tremendously valuable for the purpose of investigation.

Wellford and Cronin (1999) studied the factors influencing homicide clearance rates and discovered that police officers daily use of information systems in their jobs in fact had a relationship with homicide clearances. In a more recent study, Braga and Pierce (2004) examined the effect of the IBIS (Integrated Ballistic Identification System) in the Boston Police Department and exhibited that the IBIS system greatly enhanced the productivity of the Boston Police Department’s Ballistic Unit, and the monthly number of ballistic matches was six times greater than before.

There exist a few studies on the usefulness of police command and control systems. In a chain of studies, Colton (1972; 1980) stated that quick recovery systems increase the arrest rates of the Long Beach Police Department and the CAD system enhance the response time of telephone operators and patrol officers alike in the San Diego Police Department. Colton, Brandeau, and Tien (1983) discovered that the police command control and communication systems were effective in undertaking various different patrol jobs. Morckel (2002) and Mayer (2009) stated the developments in investigative operations subsequent to the use of GPS technology.

Same as to command and control systems, mobile access systems were mostly reported as being useful in clearing criminal activities. The effect of mobile digital terminals (MDT) on the rate of motor vehicle thefts recovery was studied by Nunn (1994). He contended that the MDT system will increase the amount of vehicle inspections carried by patrol officers and that as the number of checks became greater, the likelihood of recognizing and retrieving stolen vehicles will too increase. Nunn discovered that the number of vehicles recovered after implementing MDT was greater than prior MDT implantation in every one of ingle city in which MDT was used. The variation in post and pre MDT ratios in the cities where MDT was used was far greater than that of the cities where MDT was no used. Also, the existence of MDT technology was largely linked to a higher percentage of recovery of stolen motor vehicle, and controlling amounts of theft.

Meehan (1998) too studied the effect MDT had on patrol and investigative services and established that MDT greatly enhanced police effectiveness and vigilance. A different study regarding MDTs by Ioimo and Aronson (2003) examined if law enforcement agencies gain significant advantages from using mobile technology in investigations and keeping records. They used data from police agencies and responses from surveys composed from an average-sized police department and stated that computing enhanced recovery rate of stolen vehicles.


There is limited evidence available to help establish a significant relationship between the use of information technology in policing and the reduction in crime rates. An important aspect to keep under consideration is that police performance includes various dimensions and certain dimensions are far easier to measure than others and there is not much consensus on how contending values should be evaluated. Nevertheless, what is measured quantitatively with most ease and in financial terms is not to be associated with what is most important.

Marshall (1998) examined the effect of cellular digital packet data (CDPD) technology on the performance of police officers. For 10 days, two cars taken from six local law enforcement agencies were fitted with CDPD technology and were tested. Even though the test group worked a smaller amount of time than the control group, researchers discovered that the number of arrests and citations made by the test group was 18.94% greater than the control group. Several studies have examined the performance of police information systems by assessing their bearing on other outcomes for example, McRae and McDavid, 1988 and Nunn & Quinet, 2002. They established varied results about the performance of police information systems.

Innovation in information technologies and its adaption to help improve policing seems to be changing the policing departments in various essential ways, but a few scholars question as to how much have really changed (Manning, 2003). Two modern assessments (Hummer, 2007; Harris, 2007) of policing and technology define this transformation process, examine the proof of its effect on police strategies and its consequences and scrutinize the repercussions of adopting technological changes in policing practices for the public. Conclusions reached by Hummer (2007) and Harris (2007) both were alike: there is no significant evidence that the police adopting information technologies have improved its performance.

Other researchers who have studied the available research on the impact of recent technological innovations on police performance have reached similar conclusion that there is inadequate data available to measure the effect of police technology on performance of the police (NRC, 2006; Manning, 2003).

Even though IT has the possible ability to improve police work and maybe essentially change traditional police practices, there is still very little evidence which suggests that IT has transformed policing for the better when compared to earlier police practices and the adoption of the telephone, two-way radio, and automobile. The extent to which modern IT has contributed to law enforcement appears to have mostly improved traditional policing practices (Harris, 2007).


In this age of information, the types and kinds of technologies to be applied to various aspects of law enforcement is astonishing. Technology offers a myriad of benefits in policing by improving the productivity of operations and programs, empowering field officers, enhancing investigative and analytic skills of officers, improving the community’s awareness about safety and supporting the sharing of information across the enterprise. It is also essential to identify that the vital practices of a law enforcement agency play a critical role in comprehending the possible benefits of technology. However, technology is contending much other operational urgency confronting law enforcement agencies all around the world. Hence, police officials must be capable of demonstrating the perceptible business value of technology by calculating and supervising performance, recording enhancements in productivity, and creating a proper return on investment.

It is vital to consider information technologies adapted to support crime prevention and crime control by police, because by concentrating on novelties in only one region, we are more likely to overlook the consequences – both intended and unintended – of the state’s investment in police technology for crime prevention strategies.

In this technology driven era we must first ask ourselves several important questions. Do we want a society lead by technology? Where does it lead? Who will control it? One distinct fear about the consequences of technology comes from George Orwell that this will create a manipulated totalitarian society who will naively be proud of its freedom. The other fear comes from Franz Kafka who thinks that it will not work well enough.

However, one cannot overlook the significant impact information technologies generate for law enforcement agencies. Thought there might be little evidence to support the claim the use of information technology has led to an increase in crime prevent and control and that crime rate have actually decreased, there also little or evidence which suggests otherwise. Most of the research which has been conducted in this field has garnered come kind of a positive response.

If nothing else, the technological innovations have made the work of police much easier and faster. What took days before is now a matter of hours. With an array of sophisticated software’s, ranging from fingerprint to facial recognition, one cannot but ponder over the significance of their impact on a speedier and accurate execution of justice.


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