Could holographic officers improve safety and enhance trust?
The technology could transform interactions with the public and improve responses to dangerous situations
This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.
The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it – creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.
- The article discusses the potential of holographic technology to transform law enforcement, allowing officers to safely navigate dangerous situations and improve de-escalation tactics.
- Holographic officers can be used to create a calming presence in volatile situations, while also providing officers with a comprehensive view of their surroundings, highlighting potential threats.
- However, there are challenges to the implementation of holographic technology, including the high cost of advanced systems, the need for improved hardware, and the necessity of comprehensive training for officers.
- Collaboration with technology companies, community leaders and public officials will be necessary to fully realize the potential of a holographic officer, and obtaining public buy-in will be crucial.
- The article concludes that embracing this technological change could be key to evolving as a profession and rebuilding public trust in law enforcement.
By Commander Jason Grossini
The role of law enforcement in providing public safety is an important one, but it also involves significant risk. Not only must officers navigate their way through dangerous and unpredictable situations, but they must also maintain the trust of the communities they serve. As the police seek solutions to all the issues that surround the profession, could the key to success be using holographic imaging in the form of a virtual officer to conduct dangerous missions safely, while avoiding life-threatening mistakes? 
The holographic officer may have the potential to transform how officers interact with the public, respond to dangerous situations, maintain safety and de-escalate difficult scenes. It could also rekindle the public trust that has deteriorated in recent years.
De-escalation and officer safety
De-escalation is a critical skill for police, particularly in situations involving mental health crises or individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These encounters are fraught with risk, both to police and the persons they contact. Officers must be able to effectively defuse these situations to prevent harm to themselves and others.
What if there were a way to make contact, interact with others and resolve potentially violent incidents without harm to anyone? One emerging option on the horizon is to use holography – the creation of projected interactive three-dimensional images – to create that level of safety. Imagine the future using such a tool: The holographic officer would have no boundaries in their ability to be utilized in situations where de-escalation is the key to a successful resolution. They can take any form (gender, race, clothing, etc.), thus bringing a calming presence depending on the circumstances and identity needed.
In addition to de-escalation, the holographic officer could also benefit safety. One of the biggest risks officers face is the potential for death or physical harm while on duty. A holographic counterpart could provide officers with a 360-degree view of their surroundings, highlighting potential threats such as hidden weapons or individuals acting suspiciously.
Imagine policing in the future as holography becomes the preferred way to minimize danger. An officer gets a radio call to respond to a subject disturbing other people in the local park. Dispatch advises the subject appears to have mental health issues or be under the influence of drugs, prompting the officer to think of using his holographic representation.
Upon arrival, the officer parks at a safe distance, deploys his holographic platform, maneuvers the platform into position to communicate with the subject, and projects the holographic officer to assist in resolving the issue. His holographic image engages the subject. If needed, the “officer” can also ask others in the park to move out of the area until the situation is resolved.
In a matter of minutes, the officer can safely de-escalate the situation, calm the subject and reduce the chances of a use of force by doing all of this at a safe distance. Everyone else sees what happened and will tell their friends how well the officer did to protect them and the park.
Holographic technology advancements and cost
Holographic technology does have some barriers today, with its cost and the pace of advancements being two of the most obvious. The cost of holographic technology varies depending on its type and complexity. Costs can range from a few hundred dollars for basic displays to several million for advanced systems.
One of the factors that contributes to the cost is the hardware required to create and display the holographic images. This would include high-resolution cameras, projectors and specialized software capable of capturing and processing copious amounts of data in real-time, as well as displaying holographic images in realistic ways. With companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and many smaller private companies jumping into the game, though, the possibilities appear limitless. 
In the arena of holographic imaging, there have been significant advances in recent years. One is the development of more efficient and cost-effective hardware. Another is the size of holographic platforms. A company called Portl has already shaved its platform down from one the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth to one the size of a mini fridge.  This has made it possible to create more portable and versatile displays to use in a variety of applications. While there are companies currently working on platforms (Imverse, Spatial Corporation and Fuze, to name a few), the overall hologram experience has not quite been perfected at this time.  It is, however, moving in a positive direction.
Once portable and useful holography emerges, another challenge will be the need for more training and education. The holographic officer, even when field-ready, will be a complex and sophisticated technology, and officers will need to be trained to use it effectively. This will require significant investment, as well as ongoing support and maintenance. The benefits of fewer instances of force used by officers and greater public support will make these efforts worthwhile.
With the abilities of the holographic officer to de-escalate, assist in officer and public safety and interact with the public in any form and any language, the public trust benefit is unquantifiable but should be significant.
For the law enforcement profession to improve upon its public interactions, officers need to use every tool available to them, including tools of the future. Said Santa Barbara County (California) Undersheriff Craig Bonner, “It is well understood that nonverbal aspects of communication are critical to effectively interacting with the community members we serve. Holographic technology could assist in closing gaps within the current remote communication capacity of law enforcement.”
Law enforcement would need to work with technology companies, command staff, union/association leadership, community leaders and public officials to realize the potential of this tool. Agencies will need to find ways to hire and train officers in its use and make it a part of routine patrol techniques. It will also require public buy-in, which should establish that technological tools will benefit all stakeholders.
The current budget climate for most agencies is not ideal, but establishing that this is an investment in the future for both law enforcement and the public should assist in pushing this valuable tool to the top of agendas. Agencies will need to work with their supervisors and councils to look at the investment as a way to prevent possibly exorbitant future costs through adverse judgments in litigation. Proper investments in holographic technology now could save millions down the road.
Agencies should begin to look for technology-specific grants that would allow for the purchase of and training in the use of law enforcement-related tools. These grants can be sought independently or in collaboration with other entities (public health, district attorney’s office, etc.) that create a greater chance to receive the grant funding. Agencies should also contact other jurisdictions to apply jointly for regional grants. The broader you can make your collaboration partners, the more opportunities you have to receive a piece of the grant pie.
Police will need to commit to conducting public outreach concerning holographic technology to gauge how it will be accepted once it comes to fruition. Reaching out to community leaders early to assist in evaluating the technology and its benefits would be another avenue to engage the public. If the outreach is conducted with trusted community members in small increments, it will allow them to digest the process as a whole more easily. If agencies can implement plans to address investment, training and public outreach early in the process, the chances for successfully implementing the technology should increase significantly. 
What happens if the police stay the course and do not make the changes necessary to evolve and improve? While most peace officers may often not look favorably upon change, it is needed now more than ever. Adding a technological tool in the form of a holographic officer may be the change needed to evolve as a profession and help revive the public trust so desperately lacking between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
Topics for discussion
1. How do you think the implementation of holographic technology could be integrated into the current practices of your police department, and what potential challenges do you anticipate in this transition?
2. How would you plan to undertake the necessary training and education for your officers to effectively use and adapt to the holographic technology?
3. Given the potential benefits of holographic officers in terms of public safety and trust, how would you propose to secure the required funding and public support for the investment in this technology?
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3. van Hooijdonk R. The rise of holographic technology – making the impossible possible. Richard van Hooijdonk Blog. March 2022.
4. Brown D. Will holograms be the next innovation in the post-pandemic workplace? Washington Post. February 2021.
5. Grossini J. Summary of findings. POST Executive Command College. Unpublished manuscript; February 2023.
About the author
Jason Grossini is the North County Operations Division Commander for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office in California. He has more than 24 years of experience with the sheriff’s office.