The Piscataway (New Jersey) Police Department, which deploys 95 officers over slightly under 20 square miles and serves a population of about 50,000, uses a GPS -- but not to track its officers. Instead, like most departments, Piscataway uses it to determine the origin of telephone calls. But instead of using a GPS expert to interpret the data, the system Piscataway purchased does not require expert analysis. Instead, it uses what the company, Queues Enforth Development Inc. (QED), calls "intuitive location intelligence solutions."
Phil Zmuda, officer and spokesman for the Piscataway PD says his department chose the QED package for many reasons. "The nice part about this is that it's directly interfaced into the CAD system," Zmuda says. "It's all within the QED product line, all one package."
The system integrates with mobile units so everyone is both literally and figuratively on the same page. And that's an important consideration when choosing software packages and technological upgrades for departments.
"It eliminates problems with response time because cars have mobile interface out there," he says. Zmuda adds that because the system is extremely accurate, dispatchers can direct officers to precise locations, "third building on the right, second floor."
Kevin Hanron, GPS product manager at QED, says that as accurate GPS data is available to more and more municipalities, the demand for mapping software will rise. "But having the data doesn't mean having the application that can benefit from it -- that's always been the [catch]," Hanron says.
GPS is not the only techno-game in town. Advances in criminal justice technology can wield stunning results. In one case, for example, wounds in autopsy photos were technologically "erased" and replaced to illustrate the method used to inflict them. Other recent advances include computer mapping of chemicals used in bombing cases, computer-organized partnerships between schools and the criminal justice system to identify and track problem-prone juveniles and a newly launched online repository for cases involving the missing and unidentified dead, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Strategies for staying on-game
Just like the contestants in that reality chef program, law enforcement agencies have to keep cooking up new ways to handle the business of policing. Sometimes the challenges consist of the same issues that have always faced the criminal justice community -- like recruiting better-qualified applicants, balancing training, court, work and real life and stretching a thin budget. But as long as terrorism, computer crimes and new, untested criminal opportunities remain on the horizon, law enforcement will continue to face new challenges.
On the horizon
Experts interviewed for this article took a turn at predicting some of tomorrow's biggest challenges. Here's what they see as heavyweight issues looming on the horizon:
Kevin Love, Central Michigan University: "Meeting an ever-changing set of enforcement realities with ever-decreasing budgets for staff and resources. There will be, and currently is, a huge turnover of law enforcement personnel as the Baby Boomers retire out of these agencies, after 30-plus years of service. Will these agencies be able to attract the best and brightest away from the private sector given the booming economy? The recruiting of the best talent will be critical."
Richard W. Stanek, Hennepin Co. Sheriff's Office: "The whole concept of homeland security versus policing. Prior to 9/11 how many knew what homeland security was? Some would argue we have been doing it all along, but we just didn't call it that. Now it's all dumped on local law enforcement and we didn't get many additional resources. But [overall] it's a positive thing. I think it's remarkable how law enforcement has evolved, and embraced and accepted the challenge."
Vito Sparace, Director of Pre-employment Basic Training Program, Caranozia College, Caranozia, New York: "The age and background standards will have to change in recruiting. Agencies will have to modify the way they look at candidates. Little things that would have gotten them bumped from the program won't be as critical. Nobody is squeaky clean anymore."