Implementing New Technology the Right Way

Aug. 12, 2022
Law enforcement agencies must carefully implement technology programs from the start to avoid pushback.

When it comes to investigations, new technology plays a big role in assisting law enforcement. As cases go cold, DNA technologies and facial recognition have been able to supercharge investigations and improve clearance rates. While agencies have been pleased by the end result, they must carefully implement these programs from the start since there will oftentimes be pushback from the public and local officials.

This article appeared in the July issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to view the digital edition. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Museum recently held a roundtable on how to successfully advance law enforcement technology, sponsored by facial recognition company Clearview AI, in which both industry representatives and law enforcement leaders spoke about the importance of properly rolling out these programs.

Facial recognition

The Miami Police Department grappled with the problem of having so much evidence from cameras in the city, on businesses and from devices like doorbell cameras, but had no way to identify the subjects in those videos. Previously, the agency would distribute video clips to local news stations with the hope that somebody watching the broadcast could identify the suspects. “Facial recognition really helped bridge that gap,” says Armando R. Aguilar, Assistant Chief of Police of Miami’s Criminal Investigations Division.

When he came into his current role, facial recognition technology was something Aguilar wanted to pursue. “I knew that this gap and making the most of video evidence was certainly present,” he says, adding that he soon discovered the the department was already using it on a trial basis but had no policy behind it. “That was an interesting place to start from, but it did give us some early success stories that we could bring back to the public and show them.”

When Aguilar and his staff looked at crafting policy and ways to implement the technology, they encountered some hurdles. “This was an area where there was certainly a shortage of best practices,” he says. “There weren’t many agencies that had well-defined policies and so we had to look for those best practices in places where we didn’t think that we would have to look before and in many cases we had to create those best practices.”

In order to develop a policy, without much out there to go off of, Aguilar says they read op-ed pieces that were critical of the technology. The department also held town hall meetings to get public feedback and even had a sit-down meeting with the local chapter of the ACLU. In the end, the Miami Police Department created a policy that sought to balance both privacy interests with public safety interests.

“We wanted to make sure that that we had a policy that that safeguarded against officers and detectives treating matches as probable cause to make an arrest,” he says. “We wanted to make sure that we were treating matches just like a tip that gets called into Crime Stoppers. You get that match, but you still have to go through those traditional investigative steps to put somebody in a photo lineup, to get fingerprint evidence, eyewitness testimony.”

The department also narrowed the number of authorized users that had direct access to the technology. In the department of 1,400 sworn officers with an additional 400 civilian employees, only 12 employees were given access with requests for use of the facial recognition program funneled through them. It also created an auditing process to make sure that a supervisor looks at those searches on a monthly basis and ensures the face recognition platforms are being used for authorized uses only.

Skyler Kearn, the VP of Director of Government Affairs with Clearview AI, who previously served with the Texas Department of Public Safety, says that law enforcement agencies must have a plan in place when implementing new technology. “One of the main things that seems to be amiss sometimes is having a common understanding of what problem you’re trying to solve for law enforcement,” he says. “Is it truly their problem or are you just bringing technology that solves a problem? For the innovator, for the technology company, making sure that you have consultation either in-house or outside with actual users and people who understand what you’re trying to accomplish with your solution. Both at the investigative level and at the executive level, because it’s two different perspectives.”

Success stories

In 2012, Sgt. John Kadner with the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office in Montana, was assigned a double murder case from 1956. In 2001, investigators sent a glass slide from the victim to be processed and a DNA profile was developed. That profile was filed away into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) and the agency never received any hits. When the Golden State Killer was identified using genetic genealogy in 2018, the new technology began to be more widely used.

“That got my wheels turning and I decided to send that sample back and they were able to identify a new profile that could be used through STR testing,” says Kadner. “The problem was, once this individual was identified, we found out that he had passed away in 2007. We had to find out if he had any living children or family members that we could then test that DNA profile against. Ultimately, through Bode Technology and their forensic genealogy department, we were able to identify a family tree, identify the subject and identify living children that were compared to that DNA sample.”

Once a subject is identified, that information is handled as a lead. “Obviously, your goal is to compare that known DNA sample from the crime scene in 1956 to these individuals who are still living,” he says, stressing that contacting family members has to be handled carefully. “How do we break this to them? How do we get them to provide us with a DNA sample because they certainly don’t have to?”

Gaining public trust

Ganesha Martin, VP of Community Affairs and Public Policy with Mark 43, who was previously with the Baltimore Police Department, says in the past, law enforcement agencies weren’t stopping to ask some critical questions when it came to new technology. “Get out of your own head. We often make decisions and think about things from a law enforcement perspective, and it makes complete sense, but when we think about it from somebody else’s perspective, we might think about it differently.”

She says that it’s important to open the lines of communication with the public early in the process. After the Baltimore Police Department encountered some difficulties when it came to gaining public acceptance to new technology, it began holding “Show and Tells.” These press conferences were longer than usual ones and would demonstrate the new technology to the community and the media. She adds that it’s necessary to get public input when procuring new technology. “You’d rather talk about this before you have protesters, before it’s the leading national story, before it’s all over the news It’s much easier to have the conversations and explain that technology beforehand than under those circumstances.”

The Miami Police Department was proactive in getting the public involved in the process. It has in-person meetings scheduled in March of 2020, but when the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns across the country, those went virtual. That move ended up being a blessing in disguise. “We found that we reached a far greater audience than we would have in person,” says Aguilar. “We had hoped if in each one of these meetings, if we got 50 people that would be great.” The agency held an English virtual town hall session and a Spanish session. Each one got about 1,300 live views and have since gotten about 3,600 live views.

Kadner says that when implementing new technology, he’s learned there may never be 100% public buy-in, but that it’s important to try to gain their trust. “You’re going to have those naysayers and no matter how hard you try, there’s going to be some negative to it. In Montana there’s a lot of concern with privacy. That was a concern that came up with some folks, but most of it was positive.”

To watch the full roundtable video, visit:

This article appeared in the July issue of OFFICER Magazine.

About the Author

Paul Peluso | Editor

Paul Peluso is the Managing Editor of OFFICER Magazine and has been with the Officer Media Group since 2006. He began as an Associate Editor, writing and editing content for Previously, Paul worked as a reporter for several newspapers in the suburbs of Baltimore, MD.

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