Task Force Recommends New Laws, Standards to Address New Technologies
Tuesday, March 03, 2015 | Comments

In its recommendations to President Barack Obama, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing encouraged new laws, standards and best practices for new technologies such as body-worn cameras. A report suggested collaboration and public input in the development, implementation and use of emerging policing technologies.

“The use of technology can improve policing practices and build community trust and legitimacy, but its implementation must be built on a defined policy framework with its purposes and goals clearly delineated,” the task force said in the report. “While technology is crucial to law enforcement, it is never a panacea. Its acquisition and use can have unintended consequences for both the organization and the community it serves, which may limit its potential.”

The task force highlighted body-worn cameras as an example of a useful technology with limits. While several studies show that the cameras can significantly decrease both officer use of force and complaints against officers, the technology raises a variety of questions, such as privacy concerns, that must be answered, the task force said.

As part of its recommendations, the task force encouraged federal, state, local and other governmental bodies to update their public record laws to account for emerging technologies.

“The quickly evolving nature of new technologies that collect video, audio, information and biometric data on members of the community can cause unforeseen consequences,” the task force said.

The updated public records laws should work to ensure that body-worn and dash cameras and other technology does not infringe upon the privacy of citizens and law enforcement personnel, the report said. As an example, the task force cited an incident in Flagstaff, Arizona, where an officer’s body-worn camera captured his death. After several open records requests, that footage showed up on several local TV stations and YouTube.

The task force also recommended that the Department of Justice (DOJ) establish standards for the research and development of new technology that address both “compatibility and interoperability needs within law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions and maintain civil and human rights protections.”

Currently the lack of standards leads to constantly increasing costs for law enforcement agencies as they have to invest in new kinds of technology and make it work with old systems, the report said.

“Inconsistent or nonexistent standards also lead to isolated and fractured information systems that cannot effectively manage, store, analyze or share the data with other systems,” the task force said.

The task force also encouraged the continued development of a national public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

“The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is considered a game-changing public-safety project, which would allow instantaneous communication in even the most remote areas whenever a disaster or incident occurs,” the task force said.

The task force also recommended that the DOJ develop best practice guidelines for the “acquisition, use, retention and dissemination” of different kinds of data. States could then adopt those best practices if they chose. While the task force recommended the federal government’s help in determining standards and best practices, it recommended that all technology implementation decisions lie with local organizations and agencies.

“Implementation of developed technologies should remain a local decision to address the needs and resources of the community,” the report said.

Making implementation a local decision allows agencies to more effectively manage new technology costs and determine if the technology is right for their communities, the task force said. Law enforcement agencies should work with their communities to determine what technologies are appropriate.

“Agencies need to consider ways to involve the public in discussions related to the protection of their privacy and civil liberties prior to implementing new technology, as well as work with the public and other partners in the justice system to develop appropriate policies and procedures for use,” the task force said.

Additionally, the task force recommended that law enforcement agencies create advisory groups that include law enforcement representatives, advocacy groups, citizens and others to gauge the effectiveness of newly implemented technologies.

Members of the task force met with and presented its recommendations to the president March 2. In a blog following the release of the recommendations, Director of DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Ron Davis said the president directed federal law enforcement organizations to review the recommendations and adopt the recommendations that could practically be adopted.

President Obama created the task force at the end of 2014, following several high-profile incidents in places such as New York, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri, where officers killed a suspect. The task force then spent the next three months meeting with law enforcement and community experts to gather input on effective ways to increase community trust in police officers while reducing crime.

The task force based its recommendations on five pillars. The third pillar of the recommendations dealt with technology and social media. Find the task force’s full report here.

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