From drones to artificial intelligence, new technology is changing the way police work

One of the darkest days in Dallas history came to an end when police used a robot carrying a bomb to end an hours-long standoff. It marked the first time explosives attached to a robot had been used by a U.S. police department.

While that is an extreme example, technology is rapidly changing the way law enforcement does its job. From advances in things we’re familiar with, like cameras and license plate readers, to newer developments like drones and artificial intelligence, police departments have more tools than ever with which to operate.

“We are getting a lot more tools with which to discover criminal activity,” North Richland Hills police Chief Mike Young said. “And so we get a report of criminal activity, we get what we get on the information… It doesn’t mean that we automatically have a case made, that just means that we’ve got a place to go and look.”

While departments grapple with how to best deploy some of their new tools, Levelland police Chief Albert Garcia, the president of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said some departments even can use apps to report minor incidents, like minor auto accidents.

“Some of our younger generation really appreciates that because they’re more versed in how to use that kind of technology than some of our older generation,” he said. “In our older generation, they really appreciate the officer presence and being able to go and make that contact with them.”

As new tools continue to become available to departments statewide, ACLU of Texas staff attorney Savannah Kumar said it can sometimes be difficult for lawmakers to stay on top of regulation technology.

“That’s an area of the law where we see that the law itself is often well behind how quickly technology is spreading,” she said. “It can be so important to just have those basic requirements enshrined. I mean, of course, the Constitution provides us with some of these guarantees. But really having that spelled out more concretely in terms of limitations, for example, on how technologies can be used.”

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