The decade's top ten innovations in police technology

The policing business has seen many changes this past decade, most of them positive. It would be nice to break even but the most recent trend appears to be a rise in assaults, especially random ones, against police officers. Still, the decade of innovations has been good to the industry. Here is the short list, in no particular order, of changes.

Before we begin, you should know that at least three dozen innovations came to mind when I started this research. When I checked further, I found a trend which I suspected before I started. Many innovations fielded between 2000 and 2010 were fully developed in the previous decade. The policing industry is cautious, with good cause. The list dwindled to the point where I had to open it up to what was popular in the past decade.

There is a much larger list of honorable mentions (maybe I will write that article toward the end of 2010?). Some of them are absolutely brilliant in design, but need the next decade of data to measure their success. An example of this is the latest in hemostatic products, or clotting agents. These are chemicals introduced into a wound to control life threatening bleeding. They work, but require policy, training, and more contributions to the data domain.

San Jose (Calif.) PD recently began testing the new TASER Axon, a wearable video camera that sees what the officer sees. (AP Photo)
San Jose (Calif.) PD recently began testing the new TASER Axon, a wearable video camera that sees what the officer sees. (AP Photo) (AP Photo)

Huh? Policy, training, and the data domain? Yes. These products are designed for times when other methods of bleeding control have not been successful and the patient will have a delayed arrival in a full facility. This requires policy and training. How does one contribute to the data domain? Use the products and report the success rate. I expect to see Celox and QuickClot on the next list of innovations.

AEDs, or automated external defibrillators, are computerized medical devices designed to assess a person’s heart rhythm and determine if the patient needs a therapeutic shock. When needed, AEDs can deliver the correct dose of a life saving shock.

The technology for AEDs is not particularly new, nor is any technology in this article. The new innovation is their increased prevalence in the patrol car. Law enforcement experts didn’t take long to figure out that quick response and integrated training means an improvement in “saves.”

Medical manufacturers have made AEDs rugged and portable. They have simplified their operation and enabled them to update the algorithms (to meet current medical recommendations). The new machines record the application event, talk to the operators, and provide essential data for cardiologists to analyze later.

There are no national statistics on AED “saves” but medical experts have known for years about the value of bystander CPR: The faster the therapy, the higher the survival rate, especially long-term survival. It is a simple logical pursuit to conclude that the fastest way to get them to the patient is to put one in each patrol car.

High output LED
Although the technology for LEDs has existed for decades, the current high out put white LED is a very recent innovation. This innovation all but revolutionized tactical lighting for patrol use.

The forerunner to the white LEDs found in cutting edge strobing flashlights came from research done by Shuji Nakamura, who developed a high brightness blue LED. Originally thought to be useful only as a replacement for incandescent indicator lights, LED devices became popular overnight.

In this decade, Cree Inc. carried the torch, literally. Cree began producing LED devices mounted on a base which fired several times more lumens per watt than their incandescent counterparts. This put LEDs into the realm of tactical use.

As high output LEDs entered the market, new applications were inevitable. Probably the best benefit of LED lighting is the fact that an LED does not have a delay in starting up. That is, an incandescent light has a faster rise time than an LED. If one were to compare an LED with a standard light bulb in a high speed film, the LED would reach its peak brightness quicker.

What does this mean? It means increased officer safety. A handheld strobing device would be unheard of without the LED. Oh yeah, I know, photography flash strobes. They’ve been around since news photographers quit using black powder. However, the white LED has increased their efficiency and made them practical.

There are some emerging studies which suggest that there is a decreased driver reaction time and alertness when LED signals are used. The brain can recognize the abruptness of the LED’s activation, compared to other light sources, even if the conscious mind cannot recognize the subtle difference. It creates a slightly higher sense of urgency, which can cause a higher state of alertness. Although there is not a lot of data out there, research will likely determine that LED lightbars are more effective. Even if they weren’t, the new ones definitely have a lower profile.

The white LED has opened the door for brighter lights at much less power consumption. I can’t wait for the next lighting innovation!

Lighter, Faster Bullets
Reducing the bullet weight in grains and increasing the velocity for a similar effect is also nothing new, especially if one were to look at cartridge history from the 1870’s to the 1900’s. However, the law enforcement bullet innovations have seen some unusual trends, which demonstrate manufacturers are putting their homework to good use.

The most conspicuous innovation is the 5.7x28mm cartridge, developed for the FNH Five-seveN series of handguns. I wouldn’t have predicted this, but this handgun has been adopted by many agencies and is approved for tactical police competition. I put several hundred rounds through one and several rounds through ballistic gelatin. I now understand why this trend is here to stay.

The lighter bullets, driven to extreme velocities, have demonstrated their ability to cause consistent disruption in the wound channel.

The second most conspicuous part of this trend has to do with bullet design, especially better jackets and cores.

I began this decade with several 25-pound buckets of Vyse gelatin and an Ohler Model 35P chronograph. The past decade has determined several things:

1. My wife has begun to threaten me, “If you mix another batch of that stuff in my kitchen...”
2. Cor-Bon self defense ( JHP bullets scream out of the barrel and consistently perform — clearly, reduced weight and high velocity works for them.
3. 9MM LUGER +P 124 GR. SUPREME ELITE BONDED PDX1 (S9MMPDB) and Speer Gold Dot (GDHP) 124 grain 9mm bullets do not shed their jackets, even on a bad day.
4. Remington has the right idea with brass jacketed bullets with a driving band like the GSB9MMD. Three of my test guns fired sub 1” groups with a bullet that retained 97-99 percent after barrier.

Wearable Video Cameras
The current trend of equipping officers with video and audio recording has solicited mixed emotions from many officers.

I ran an audio recorder in the previous decade, using a bulky tape machine in my pocket. I can recall several times where a witness testified about something that did not agree with I told the court (hmm…that never happens, huh?). It was simply a matter of playing the miniature cassette I had booked into evidence to resolve the issue.

The new wearable video cameras have features like video remote streaming, GPS tagging and discreet form factors. This is light years ahead of the stuff I used.

Wearable Body Armor
Nope, not a new concept either. I was going to pass this one by until I compared one of the more recent concealable vests with one I was issued for patrol. It was half the weight, though somewhat stiff, with the same level of protection. I expected that. The part I didn’t expect was the absence of warnings about getting the product wet. Today’s fibers are better.

The bonus with some of the newer materials is their resistance to puncture attacks.

This technology is limited to only a few products, but it certainly will catch on.

GPS Tagging in Vehicle Systems
The other day, I received a video of a recent vehicle pursuit. The video was about 15 minutes long and included the initial radio transmission about the investigation, followed by 10 minutes of high speed driving down country roads. At about minute eight of the pursuit, the suspects tossed a gun. At about minute eight and a half, they tossed a package. The pursuit ended when the suspects surrendered, maybe six miles after tossing stuff out the window in what looked like desolate wilderness.

The officer hit the “log event” button on the recording device during both evidence tosses. An assisting deputy recovered the stuff within a few minutes. I’m all for GPS tagging.

One-Handed Knives
If one were to keep statistics on knife use on patrol, the results would be a lot less dramatic than the imagination of the customer getting ready to make a knife purchase. The “last ditch” uses can be counted on one hand. The “everyday cutting chore” uses are plentiful. Either way, the tech specs describe a knife which can be rapidly deployed with one hand, have a sturdy blade of approximately 3-5 inches, robust liner, locking mechanism and wet grip utility.

Most cutting actions on patrol call for a quality one handed knife. That is, the officer usually holds or steadies an object in one hand and cuts with the other. Most, not all applications are facilitated by a partially serrated knife. For example, officers will cut heavy packaging (think marijuana bricks in multiple layers of plastic or kilos of methamphetamine), webbing or rope(think seatbelts, tie-downs ) or delicate things which require instinctive knife use (fingerprint tape, evidence seals and single use packaging).

Anyone who has had an automatic knife fire unintentionally in the pocket will likely be a fan of the one handed locking/unlocking mechanisms out there for police use.

My favorite: the Axis Lock. I carried a Model 710SBKD2 for duty (in both blue and camouflage uniforms) since the beginning of this decade. All Axis Lock knives are ambidextrous and can be deployed/recovered one handed.

Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR)
The ability to drive through an area and search plates for stolen or suspect vehicles is priceless. I used to use a Police Explorer to run plates to look for stolen vehicles. Now there’s a hardware/software solution designed to not spill something in your car. That’s progress.

Breathable Membranes
Officers of the past decade have enjoyed lighter, breathable fabrics which are water resistant. These membranes have been added to gloves and boots with an added bonus of being pathogen resistant.
The latest innovation in water/chem/pathogen resistance comes from Magnum. Their new ion-mask product is not quite a membrane. It is impregnated in the material in a vacuum. Space age stuff.

Improved Retention Holsters
The 1990’s saw retention holsters made of layers of laminated synthetic materials. The past decade enjoyed lightweight holsters made of pressure-molded materials and fibers.

The shape of the retention devices changed also. Most notable were the Serpa CQC designs by BLACKHAWK! Within the past few years, they kicked it up a little with a Level 3 Serpa Auto Lock Duty Holster, which has a very natural fast draw. Unlike the holsters of the 1990’s, the past decade of innovations included holsters which did not require any other motions besides “scabbarding” to return to the original level of security.

The Eleventh Innovation: The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004
I bet you expected I was going to limit myself to technological innovations. This one is just too big to ignore.

Actually HR 218 is an amendment to Chapter 44, Title 18 of the US Code sec. 926B, which allows qualified officers and retired officers their concealed carry privileges off duty between states.

This provision has added to the margin of safety to which law enforcement officers nationwide should be entitled. The amazing part of this one is the fact that we are reviewing it this decade, not, say…at the turn of the twentieth century.

An Even Dozen: Ballistic Lenses
I tested several models of ballistic lenses the past few years. I shot them, sprayed them with chemicals and looked at their optical clarity.

While ballistic lenses are designed to prevent fragments and secondary projectiles from stopping the fight, there are some incidents where they have literally lived up to their name.

The lenses are stronger and the ANSI standards have improved the quality. This is not the innovation. I tested the ESS Ice Series Eyeshields and Rudy Project Ekynox SX Tactical glasses, both of which exceed ANSI Z87.1-2003+ and meet the standard of the.15 caliber ballistic impact test MIL-PRF-31013. ESS and Rudy Project have managed to make serious operator wear rather sexy.

The future? The Ekynox SX Tactical glasses have a ballistic lens that goes from rose to dark grey in seconds.

2010 and Beyond
As usual, I was unable to write an article within the parameters of the assignment — then again, I never could color within the lines. At last count, my list of innovations included 30 other items, including traffic stuff like laser radar devices and forensic stuff like mirror lock up on digital SLRs. The new electric patrol motorcycles are quicker than their gas counterparts within city limits and rifles like the EMD Windrunner and CheyTac have shifted the paradigm a little this past decade. The only solution for me then is to keep writing about what is new throughout the next decade.

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