One of a kind: How non-fungible tokens hold the promise of transforming law enforcement
NFTs could bring iron-clad authenticity to every component of police records, evidence collection and storage
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.
- NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) are unique blockchain-based assets that can be used to authenticate and track digital or physical items, including art, media and even evidence in criminal cases.
- The NFT technology can be valuable for law enforcement, as it can help to prevent the mishandling of evidence and ensure its authenticity, providing an additional layer of trust in the justice system.
- By turning evidence into NFTs, each piece can be tracked, securely stored and proven to be tamper-proof, which can be essential in high-stakes criminal trials.
- To implement NFT technology in law enforcement, cooperation between police departments, legislators, judiciary and technology companies is necessary, along with the creation of new laws and procedures.
- The adoption of NFT technology in law enforcement could face challenges, including public sentiment and the need for unity in its use across different jurisdictions and legal systems.
By Lieutenant Ray Drabek
“It’s one of a kind.”
Those words bring value. When used to describe things, the very nature of the words can increase the equity of the item being described. We’ve all heard people are one of a kind, and we tell our kids they are one of a kind, and we listen to ideas and new products promoted as one of a kind. Arguably there are companies, teams and experiences that are all one of a kind. Sometimes these words bring extreme value, and sometimes not. An original painting by Michelangelo that is one of a kind is irreplaceable and extremely valuable. A snowflake, which could be one of a kind, is virtually worthless. No matter the topic or item, being one of a kind means something. It distinguishes us from others and gives us some degree of identity and purpose.
This one-of-a-kind sentiment is one of the central premises behind non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and makes them great for police work. NFTs may hold the key to convicting persons of crimes and ensuring the court system’s integrity.
What are non-fungible tokens?
In the digital world, NFTs are authentic and can be unique.  The fantastic thing is how NFTs’ one-of-a-kind ability has truly connected us to the physical world. In the digital world, NFTs are not just product numbers, vehicle license plates, or serial numbers. That would be too simple and far from tamperproof. The NFT computer code is vastly more technical and complex than a simple vehicle license plate, but this code is not where it stops.
The NFT code is a type of blockchain technology,  an innovative technology that allows transactions and data to be recorded and verified with no central authority. Each NFT can have a variety of metadata. NFTs can be encrypted, geolocated, give abilities and permissions to the owner, show a ledger of ownership, be tracked and be connected. They can be bought, sold and transferred from one owner to another. And this cool thing is that the ownership is stored in a ledger using blockchain. A ledger of ownership connects to digital or physical property. By using NFTs, a digital picture is not just a picture. It is now a unique photo and has been given value. It is a one-of-a-kind property where its ownership is established and tracked, and a value can be set.
NFTs are already being broadly used. They are used to sell video clips, art, music and literature. They are also being used for commercial and access-related tickets to events. The technology is so reliable and strong that some NFTs are sold for millions of dollars. Dexerto.com reports the NFT “Pak’s ‘The Merge’” was sold for $91.8 million. NFTs could be other valuable items also, like an identification card, a home front door electronic key, a video, a contract, or even evidence of a crime. But how does this make them great for police work?
How could non-fungible tokens benefit law enforcement?
If you search the Internet for “criminal evidence mishandling,” it produces over two million results. These show several cases where officers intentionally or unintentionally mishandled evidence and other search results. One of the results still referenced is the O.J. Simpson trial. A significant component of the defense case was that the evidence was mishandled, and they sought to prove that. They sought to destroy the jury’s trust in law enforcement. The defense saw that the evidence was valuable, and public confidence was directly connected to its value. Simpson’s not guilty verdict was based in large part on the defense convincing jurors it was proper to believe this.
What is more important or valuable in criminal justice than trusting evidence to convict a murderer? Righting a wrong is precious. Justice is gold. Being one of a kind is critical in all physical and digital evidence and why evidence is evidence. If a homicide suspect is arrested for murder, the murder weapon and other evidence are vital to convict the suspect. If a victim was stabbed to death, detectives want to find the knife used in the crime. Even though thousands may have been made, that knife is now unique as a homicide weapon. It is the only knife on the planet connected to the death of that particular victim by that specific suspect at a given location and exact time. It is one of a kind. Being able to use it to convict a perpetrator is paramount in rectifying a wrong. But how do we know our current system proves that evidence is one of a kind? The word we return to is “trust.”
We trust law enforcement officers, forensic technicians, evidence rooms and other employees. We trust systems and people. And we should trust them. But what if we could supplement this trust in our systems and mint indisputable proof of the veracity of evidence? In today’s age, we can. NFTs can turn any mass-produced product or digital item into a one-of-a-kind. NFTs are minted, one-of-a-kind digital items. With NFTs, every police photo, report, video, radio call, interview and single piece of evidence can now be beyond reproach. Using NFTs means any legal motion to dispute the authenticity of any item in question could be impossible.
By creating an NFT, you can do much more than just take a forensic photo of a knife used in a homicide. Now that evidence photo can have an encrypted blockchain code, be geolocated while being taken  and have a ledger of who has had it and where it has been  to truly become one of a kind. The photo, in essence, now has its own DNA. This DNA extends beyond the evidence, a record number or information on the police report. It is now indisputable evidence beyond question.
Currently, most police records and evidence are handled by two or more offices within the department and stored in different locations or on other contracted systems. Calls for police service are stored in one system, reports in another; evidence has a secure room or warehouse, video and photos are in a safe cloud space and so on. The contents of one investigation could be in or on five or more different places. With NFTs, this wouldn’t be the case. Almost every item could be combined and stored in one place.
It could seem like a monumental change, requiring a lot to happen. It isn’t just bringing police, judges and litigators to unite. It will also take legislation on some level, adaptation and specific technology. What would it take to make all that happen?
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How to bring non-fungible tokens to police work
The strength of the technology won’t be enough to put it into common practice. It will take police departments, legislators and judicial support coming together to make it work. Some could see it as unnecessary, and this may be a hurdle until they are educated about the possibilities and realities of NFT. The benefits will have to be explained to have support and create a foundation for the justice system to willingly accept the technology. The next step will be laws and procedures to take it as evidence. Finally, as cases are presented, it will be up to the judiciary to rule on the processes put in place.
The NFT technology is already being used broadly by companies like Nike and Adidas. How can a private corporation take the lead in the police space to adopt NFTs? It will start with the basics. They will have to build a site that mints NFTs. This is the process of taking the digital or physical item and attaching blockchain code, a ledger, some level of encryption and tracking and establishing who ultimately owns it. The creator of the NFT must also build a secure digital wallet to store and access these NFTs. This is probably the easiest piece to get done. Many existing corporations could write code and make a program and an app to do this for the police, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. We can take existing technology and use it for another purpose. The real battles are finding a corporate leader to take this on, the unity of use and strengthening government and public sentiment.
This iron-clad authenticity is what NFTs could bring to every component of police records, evidence collection and storage. This is not just based on trust.  These NFTs are indisputable technology. Each component in the investigation would be encrypted and given permissions, police could track who saw and possessed it and when and where it was taken and prevent it from being altered. It could be locked, password-protected and tamperproof. NFTs are a tracking system, security system, safe and armed guards, all wrapped up into one with a built-in authenticator. Evidence rooms and databases keep items secure, but if you attach an NFT to a piece of physical or digital evidence, it is not only safe; it is one of a kind and has a whole new level of security. A picture, video, knife and glove are not just items; they are now one-of-a-kind NFTs. This security builds trust and eliminates loopholes. The challenge for law enforcement’s future is to bring these systems and abilities together.
A prototype of non-fungible tokens in policing
So pretend with me we have a prototype. What is next? Simply partnerships and collaboration. The cooperation taking the lead must include companies providing record management systems, computer-automated dispatch systems, body-worn cameras, cloud storage, etc. These are just a few partnerships critical in bringing it all together. But the problems don’t stop there. Then we create new laws to use them and create unity of use. This idea needs multiple municipal and county law enforcement agencies, county litigators and the courts to agree to use the technology. They have to be sold on it and adopt it simultaneously. And if all that works, the adoption and inevitable fight against public sentiment begins.
How do we convince the public that we can make speeding tickets one of a kind? They are handed out by the thousands yearly and are similar in various ways. Streets, speeds and directions of travel could all be the same. An argument could be made that every speeding ticket is the same, only the violator changes. But when we break it down, this isn’t true; they are all unique. The police officer, citizen, exact speed, time of day, precise location of the stop, what is said and the decision to issue a ticket all change. Traffic tickets are all one of a kind, and those independent components could be linked together to form a one-of-a-kind NFT. That is digital authenticity; its blockchain can track who owns, sends and receives it. With NFTs, these abilities make them unique, trusted and valuable.
The speeding-ticket NFT could be sent to a prosecutor, defense attorney and judge and immediately be decided based on the video captured and statements made at the stop. The entire incident could be adjudicated the next court day via Zoom, with everyone and every piece of the incident added and linked together. There is now no reasonable doubt about what occurred, what was said or whether there was a moving violation. NFTs now have consolidated records and systems and have given the justice system what it needs: speed and efficiency on a whole new level.
Now imagine applying this to every area of police work. For a Part 1 felony, a staff member could combine the BWC, pictures, reports, call for service, evidence and every case component into an NFT. Every criminal case could be adjudicated faster, more transparently and indisputably based on the contents – all of this with a combination or even a single NFT. We haven’t even added the kicker of using artificial intelligence (AI) or virtual reality (VR).
In the future, an officer could go to a call, take a statement on BWC, download it and be done. The AI could configure the BWC statements and footage into a report, connect it to a call for service, link it to evidence collected and send it to a detective. The detective could add to it and send it all to the district attorney, geolocated, encrypted and ledgered – one minted NFT, untouched by human hands – and in some cases, with no follow-up needed, reach a prosecuting attorney the same day. The entire trial could be done sooner, in VR, with everyone at separate locations: no travel, logistics, or delays. Imagine the speed of trials and hearings with everything on a smart device or laptop in VR accessing NFTs.
The question is how fast technology will develop and how fast we can build and integrate properly. We know such a change will take time, experience and continued explanation, but the result will be a better system. NFTs are truth in digital form, but this is only the beginning. The real goal will be to build on this truth. We want the public to trust the technology so much that it becomes a given that it is reliable. If we accomplish this, arguments will be gone, tax dollars will be saved and the criminal system will be moved into the digital world.
Topics for discussion
1. How can the unique and tamper-proof nature of NFTs be leveraged in policing, especially in areas like evidence tracking, digital forensics, or identity verification?
2. What potential challenges or security concerns might arise with the adoption of NFT technology in law enforcement and how can these be mitigated?
3. Considering the rapidly evolving nature of digital technology, what strategies should be in place to ensure that law enforcement stays up-to-date with advancements like NFTs?
4. As NFTs gain popularity and usage, what type of training or education should be provided to law enforcement officers to understand and leverage this technology effectively?
1. Innovations explained: What are NFTs? My Daily Discovery.
2. Vasile I, Glenn R. (January 2023.) How to mint an NFT: A definitive guide. Be in Crypto.
4. Kaczynski S, Kominers SD. (November 2021.) How NFTs create value. Harvard Business Review.
5. Xie Y. (June 2021.) Blockchain-powered air quality sensor test launches in Hong Kong. Y. Xie. Forkast.
About the author
Ray Drabek has been a police officer for almost 26 years at the Anaheim (California) Police Department. As an officer and sergeant, he worked a variety of assignments and was promoted to lieutenant in December 2018. Since then he has worked as a watch commander and district commander, and a year ago was made the department’s training lieutenant.
Police1 is using generative AI to create some content that is edited and fact-checked by our editors.