New tech procurement: Why agencies must proactively engage legislators and the public

LE must educate stakeholders as to how the profession is using technologies to fight crime successfully and doing so responsibly


This feature is part of our Police1 Digital Edition, a supplement to Police1.com that brings a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging topics facing police chiefs and police officers everywhere. To read all of the articles included in this issue, click here.

By Dale Stockton

Agencies are continually challenged to accomplish more with their existing resources, and many are turning to technology as an effective force multiplier. Unfortunately, good intentions can sometimes be sidelined by those who proclaim loudly that these new tech capabilities “could be misused” while declaring the police cannot be trusted.

New technologies like facial recognition (FR) and artificial intelligence (AI), are quickly emerging as powerful crime-fighting tools, but no one should assume that law enforcement will be allowed to simply put them to good use. There are significant challenges ahead and this is a time for proactive diligence and determination.

THE LPR EXPERIENCE

A few years ago, the use of license plate readers swept the country because they were able to accomplish a straightforward task (checking a plate for wanted status) and do it hundreds of times more quickly than an officer could.

As the value of the LPR data was recognized and agencies began solving “unsolvable” crimes, privacy advocates voiced strong opposition to databases that contained LPR reads on citizens who had nothing to do with crime.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation pressured state legislatures to enact laws that would shorten (sometimes eliminate) data retention and severely restrict the way LPR data could be used. Many agencies found themselves having to justify their LPR programs. Some systems eventually went dark and many were so hobbled by bureaucracy that they became ineffective. Those experiences should be instructive for agencies planning to engage with FR and AI to fight crime.

BILLS ADDRESSING NEW TECH

The State of Washington just passed comprehensive legislation addressing the use of FR that will go into effect on July 1, 2021. Washington Governor Jay Inslee said the law would “provide state and local governments a set of guidelines around facial recognition technology while balancing the interests of law enforcement, the business community and individuals’ right to privacy.”

The bill was opposed by both the ACLU and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC). The ACLU claims the bill does not go far enough and wants a moratorium on the use of FR technology. Representatives of WASPC maintain the new law will hinder the enforcement of law and hamper criminal investigations. WASPC’s Policy Director James McMahan told the Wall Street Journal, “It hinders our ability to keep people safe.”

Although the Washington bill expressly permits the use of FR technology by law enforcement, it requires agencies to produce accountability reports and go through a series of community meetings (at least three) followed by a public hearing before procuring or using an FR system. For agencies that already have a system in place, the legislation will impose those same restrictions when an existing contract is renewed or extended. The law also requires that a warrant be obtained before an FR system can be used in many cases, including the identification of a deceased or missing person.

On the other side of the country, the Massachusetts state legislature is considering a law that will establish a moratorium on the use of facial recognition, a step that has already been taken in a few cities.

TAKE A PROACTIVE APPROACH

Ben Bawden, Principal and Founder of Brooks Bawden Moore, LLC, a Washington DC-based organization that closely follows and advises on emerging bills affecting public safety, has serious concerns about the impact that legislation of this type can have on agencies. He feels strongly that law enforcement needs to be proactive in explaining the benefits to public safety of new technologies. 

“Engage with those who have concerns and address them," Bawden explained. "Law enforcement leaders need to make the case with a compelling story for why the technology is beneficial and how risks are being mitigated. State chiefs and sheriffs’ groups really need to stay involved with these bills.”

According to Bawden, industry should work collaboratively with public safety to ensure best practices are established and promoted.

“Industry needs to be on the same page and providing agencies with the information and tools they need, including sample policy and success stories,” Bawden said. “These vendors are often sponsors of the state associations and there is ample opportunity to work together.” 

Scot Haug is a retired Idaho police chief and past president of the Idaho Police Chiefs Association. He frequently serves as a best practices consultant for agencies and has some advice for police leaders regarding the use of emerging technology.

“Understand the issues and be prepared to address them with facts,” he said. “It’s also important that the community be involved in a positive way. Demonstrate the technology and explain how it can be used to solve crimes. At the same time, assure them that policy will be in place to ensure proper use and accountability.”

Haug also recommends the review of relevant resources like the Law Enforcement Facial Recognition Use Case Catalog, which was produced in a joint effort by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, an industry group that advances national security initiatives. “A lot of great work went into producing this document and it will quickly help a reader become familiar with the primary uses of facial recognition,” Haug said.

The Use Case Catalog mentioned above encourages agencies to “. . . work closely with the communities to explain their use, educate the public on the capabilities, and demonstrate how the use of technology will benefit public safety.” To accomplish this, the publication makes four very straightforward recommendations, which could apply to any new LE initiatives:

  • Fully inform the public
  • Establish use parameters
  • Publicize its effectiveness
  • Create best practice principles and policies.

Two other helpful documents are the short IACP handout, Guiding Principles for Law Enforcement’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology and the Face Recognition Policy Development Template from the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. All the publications mentioned above are available for free download at the provided links.

Agencies contemplating the use of FR and AI should thoroughly review the relevant issues and then strategically engage with relevant stakeholders. While it may be tempting to avoid talking with privacy groups, this is an important step. You need to know what the challenges will be. Often, there is simply a broad statement of opposition noting the potential for abuse.

This is an opportunity to educate as to how your organization is using other technologies to fight crime successfully and doing so responsibly. It also gives you an opportunity to explain that there will be policy that will ensure proper use and oversight. These efforts should be considered an investment that will allow for powerful technology to help officers fight crime and improve public safety.

Important: Once the technology comes online, make sure you comply with the review or auditing conditions as required in your policy and regularly share the success stories in public meetings. Doing so will decrease the likelihood of criticism and pave the way for other tech opportunities going forward.


About the author

Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and investigations and retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, California. He is a graduate of the 201st FBI National Academy and holds a master’s degree in Criminology from the University of California, Irvine. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards and training.

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