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The transformative impact of wearable technologies

They will make the job safer, more accountable and more efficient

Guy connects to the internet world with smart watch

Guy connects to the internet world with smart watchReal-time stress monitoring could serve as the basis for an early warning mechanism, triggering health check-ups or timely interventions such as counseling or mental health support.

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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.

By Lieutenant Osvaldo Dominguez

The next decade promises a seismic shift in the law enforcement landscape. The trajectory of policing is set to be profoundly altered by the widespread adoption of wearable technologies. These technologies, from advanced body-worn cameras (BWCs) to smart glasses and biometric sensors, promise a paradigm change in policing practices, ushering in a new era of real-time data collection, communication, seemingly limitless access to resources and information, and enhanced officer and community safety.

This article delves into the findings of a comprehensive study that explores the implications of the proliferation of wearable technologies on officer safety, community trust and operational efficiency over the next decade. It outlines the potential benefits and ethical and privacy concerns these technologies raise. It also addresses three fundamental questions crucial in transitioning to wearable technology:

  • Which technologies should we embrace?
  • How do we successfully adopt these technologies and integrate them into the law enforcement profession?
  • Will we be able to strike the right balance between enhanced public safety and individual rights and alleviate concerns that police technologies will serve to perpetuate and aggravate inequity in policing? [1]

Enhancing officer safety and wellness

Among the many benefits promised by wearable technologies, perhaps the most profound is the enhancement of officer safety and wellness. The widespread use of body-worn cameras has already set the stage, providing a transparent record of interactions between officers and the public. These cameras will evolve to offer real-time facial recognition, object detection and behavioral analysis — a comprehensive suite of features designed to protect officers from false accusations and deter violence against them.

Wearable sensors designed for health and safety purposes have already been developed and proven effective in collecting biometric data, [2-4] meaning tracking wearables for law enforcement are already available. These sensors can seamlessly integrate into an officer’s gear and enable real-time monitoring of vital signs, stress levels and physical exertion. This real-time data collection and analysis can help identify when an officer is at risk of exhaustion or distress and encourage less-active officers to increase their physical activity. [5] Additionally, incorporating commercially available wearables into a department’s physical fitness and wellness program can be a cost-effective alternative to reduce on-the-job injuries and promote a healthier, more resilient workforce.

Moreover, the high-stress nature of police work often takes a toll on officers’ mental health. Studies have already documented the use of biometric and wearable devices to monitor occupational stressors and exposures. [4,6,7] Interestingly, using biometric sensors to study environmental stressors in livestock is well documented; Belgian researchers have developed and presented a methodology for real-time stress monitoring and detection in police horses. [8] Translated to use for humans, a panel of experts convened by the author noted, this research may prove helpful in developing a real-time stress monitoring system for officers.

Real-time stress monitoring could serve as the basis for an early warning mechanism, triggering health check-ups or timely interventions such as counseling or mental health support. Commercially available wearables such as fitness sensors or smart watches linked to mindfulness and relaxation apps can be employed today to provide officers with on-demand resources to manage stress, contributing to a safer and more supportive work environment. The next logical step is to create a system of safety and wellness using software platforms designed for those purposes.

Police1’s VISION platform empowers police departments to navigate the complexities of the digital age

Enhancing community safety

The research indicates wearable technologies have the potential to improve police officer and community safety through real-time data, advanced communication capabilities and heightened situational awareness. [9,10] Body-worn cameras, already ubiquitous in the United States, are poised to evolve and interact with devices equipped with features such as facial recognition and object detection. This next generation of technology has already arrived in China, where “Chinese law enforcement is already using technology that’s uncomfortably reminiscent of ‘Mission Impossible.’” [11] Beyond serving as tools for enhanced documentation and suspect identification, these advanced cameras will act as deterrents against assaults and potential misconduct, thus reducing injuries and mitigating the likelihood of excessive-force incidents.

Advances in miniaturization and the integration of sensors into wearables, including augmented-reality (AR) headsets and smart glasses, will empower officers with real-time access to critical information during investigations, enforcement actions and when rendering medical aid. [9] This includes language translation, aiding communication in diverse communities and providing tools that enhance situational awareness. The necessary technology to make this happen already exists. Headset computers like the Motorola HC1 and smart glasses such as Google Glass have been available for some time and already demonstrated the feasibility of producing wearable computers with integrated sensors and a wide range of software and applications on a large scale. [12.13] Police forces in China, Dubai and Russia have used smart glasses equipped with facial recognition technology for over five years to aid in surveillance and apprehend criminal suspects. [14]

Operational efficiencies

Prominent criminologist Christopher S. Koper, Ph.D., believes “The current emphasis on police technology reflects a strong belief (among both police and citizens) in its potential to enhance policing,” and the literature suggests integrating wearable technologies into policing operations promises to streamline evidence collection and management, ensuring transparency and accountability. Miniaturization, artificial intelligence (AI) and digital applications will enhance law enforcement agencies’ efficiency, communication and decision-making. Wearable technologies are “poised to revolutionize the way humans interact with the world around them” and will prove transformational to the police profession. [9]

Research indicates the public values the transparency, data collection and statistical insights of wearables. [15,16] Public support for additional technologies, data collection and analysis, coupled with advanced AI tools, will lead to enhanced officer safety information, including real-time navigation, threat assessments, historical data and suspect identification. These advances will enable a rapid and more effective response to emergencies, elevating law enforcement agencies’ overall level of service, efficiency and safety. At the same time, privacy concerns must be considered before employing any means to allow technology to guide officers.

Legal, ethical and privacy concerns

The increased use of wearable technologies in law enforcement raises critical legal, ethical and privacy concerns that require careful consideration. Legal concerns revolve around compliance with existing laws, including data retention, management, storage policies and rules governing record confidentiality and release. Clear guidelines are imperative to prevent misuse or mishandling of data, ensuring compliance and safeguarding individual rights.

Ethically, using facial recognition technology and AI in predictive policing raises concerns about surveillance and mass data collection without consent. Information-studies expert Bryce Newell, Ph.D., argues that rather than being emancipatory systems of police oversight, body-worn cameras and other law enforcement recording technologies are an evolution in police image work and surveillance expansion that serves the coercive aims of the state. [15] The use of AI and predictive policing also raises ethical questions and concerns regarding the potential for these technologies to further aggravate existing inequities in policing. [1] The responsible and unbiased use of wearable technologies necessitates a commitment to ethical principles that prioritize fairness, transparency and accountability. Newell expressed these concerns by saying, “Individuals’ basic privacy interests, and their visibility to both the state and the public, should not become the collateral damage of a transparency regime that doesn’t properly balance access, oversight and speech, on the one hand, and privacy on the other.”

Privacy concerns are significant, and the “increased awareness of racial inequity in policing, combined with the increased scrutiny of police technologies, [has] sparked concerns that new technologies may aggravate inequity in policing,” [1] with issues like unauthorized release of footage and potential misuse of data by officers or public officials. Striking a balance between the public’s right to transparency and an individual’s right to privacy is challenging. Privacy concerns should be thoroughly explored before fully embracing these technologies, underscoring the need for legislation and oversight to address evolving technologies and their implications.

Balancing costs and benefits

Despite the potential for financial benefits such as reduced legal liabilities and increased efficiencies, wearable technologies often add administrative burdens without streamlining operations. Panelists in this study emphasized the increasing costs associated with technology adoption and expressed concerns that growing technology costs would severely impact police budgets in the future. An earlier study, “Optimizing the Use of Police Technology,” shares these concerns, suggesting the impact of technology is complex and that technological advances only occasionally produce noticeable improvements in productivity, communication, cooperation, management or job satisfaction. [17] Ongoing expenses related to data storage, cybersecurity threats, device upgrades and dedicated personnel further contribute to the financial considerations as an agency weighs which technologies to use and how to sustain the funds to deploy them.

Recommendations: paving the way forward

Throughout this study, the author brought together community members and subject matter experts to examine the successful adoption of wearable technology. The research panels thoroughly analyzed various aspects of wearable technology adoption and use and, based on their findings, were able to provide a set of recommendations.

  1. Leverage available technologies for officer well-being: Law enforcement agencies should promote officer health and wellness by utilizing existing technologies. Agency wellness programs should incorporate commercially available wearables and apps for physical activity tracking, nutrition monitoring and stress management. Incentives for fitness and injury prevention, monitored through wearables, can contribute to building a resilient and healthy workforce.
  2. Strategic adoption of new technologies: Thoughtful evaluation and implementation of new wearable technologies are crucial for optimal outcomes. Agencies must consider their unique needs, resources and funding sources when selecting technologies. A well-defined communication strategy should be developed to highlight the benefits of new technology, which will ensure its seamless integration with favorable outcomes. Legal experts should be part of a team that provides guidance on privacy laws to shield the public from illegal intrusion and surveillance.
  3. Invest in research and development: The law enforcement profession should actively engage in collaborative research and development endeavors with technology researchers and developers. By partnering with academic institutions or creating a law enforcement research program (similar to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), law enforcement agencies and organizations could influence the creation of technology, tools and strategies that meet the unique requirements of the profession. This collaboration would foster innovation, adaptability and responsiveness to evolving threats.


The adoption of wearable technologies in law enforcement holds immense potential to bring about significant advances in officer safety, community trust, operational efficiency and overall well-being. While these technologies offer many benefits, addressing legal, ethical and privacy concerns is imperative to ensure responsible and unbiased use. The financial impact must also be carefully managed, considering initial costs and ongoing expenses. By prioritizing officer well-being, thoughtfully adopting new technologies and engaging in research and development, law enforcement can navigate the transformative landscape of wearable technologies, creating safer, more accountable and more efficient policing to benefit officers and the communities they serve.

Questions to consider

  1. How do the wearable technologies mentioned in the article specifically enhance the safety and wellness of law enforcement officers?
  2. What are the potential privacy and ethical concerns associated with the adoption of wearable technologies in policing, and how can these be addressed?
  3. In what ways do the study’s findings suggest wearable technologies could improve community trust and operational efficiency in law enforcement?
  4. How does the article propose law enforcement agencies balance the financial costs of adopting wearable technologies with the benefits of enhanced officer safety and efficiency?
  5. Considering the transformative potential of wearable technologies in policing, what steps does the article recommend for law enforcement agencies to successfully integrate these technologies into their operations?


1. Moy LM. A taxonomy of police technology’s racial inequity problems. Univ Ill Law Rev. 2021.

2. Dieffenderfer J, Goodell H, Mills S, et al. Low-power wearable systems for continuous monitoring of environment and health for chronic respiratory disease. IEEE Xplore. September 2016.

3. Wang J, Fujiwara T, Kato T, Anzai D. Wearable ECG based on impulse-radio-type human body communication. IEEE Xplore. September 2016.

4. Runkle JD, Cui C, Fuhrmann C, et al. Evaluation of wearable sensors for physiologic monitoring of individually experienced temperatures in outdoor workers in southeastern U.S. Environ Int. August 2019.

5. Buckingham SA, Morrissey K, Williams AJ, et al. OP67 The physical activity wearables in the police force (PAW-force) trial: feasibility, acceptability and impact. J Epidemiol Community Health. September 2019.

6. Koch M, Matzke I, Huhn S, et al. Wearables for measuring health effects of climate change-induced weather extremes: scoping review. JMIR Publ. September 2022.

7. Erickson ML, Wang W, Kraus WE. Field-based assessments of behavioral patterns during shiftwork in police academy trainees using wearable technology. J Biol Rhythms. April 2022.

8. Norton T, Piette D, Exadaktylos V, Berckmans D. Automated real-time stress monitoring of police horses using wearable technology. Appl Anim Behav Sci. January 2018.

9. Thierer AD. The internet of things and wearable technology: Addressing privacy and security concerns without derailing innovation. Richmond J Law Technol. September 2014.

10. Singh M. Mobile technologies for police tasks: An Australian study. J Organ Comput Electron Commer. November 2016.

11. Norman A. Chinese police add facial recognition glasses to their surveillance arsenal. Futurism. February 2018.

12. Blickenstorfer CH. Wearable headset computer uses head-tracking and voice commands for completely handsfree operation. Rugged PC Review.

13. Pedersen I, Iliadis A. Embodied computing: Wearables, implantables, embeddables, ingestibles. The MIT Press. 2020.

14. Lindquist J. Smart glasses: The latest police weapon against crime. Kustom Signals, Inc. October 2022.

15. Newell BC. Police Visibility: Privacy, Surveillance, and the False Promise of Body-Worn Cameras. Univ Calif Press. 2021.

16. O’Reilly KM. Transparency, accountability, and engagement: A recipe for building trust in policing. Naval Postgraduate School. May 2017.

17. Koper CS, Lum C, Willis JJ. Optimizing the use of technology in policing: Results and implications from a multi-site study of the social, organizational, and behavioural aspects of implementing police technologies. Policing: A J Policy Pract. May 2014.

About the author

Osvaldo Dominguez has been a member of the Visalia Police Department since 2005. He serves as the agency’s Professional Standards Lieutenant, managing internal affairs, hiring and training. Throughout his 24-year law enforcement career, he has undertaken various assignments, including detentions, patrol, investigations, special enforcement and public information. Osvaldo holds a Bachelor’s degree in history from California State University Los Angeles and a Master’s in Public Administration from National University. He is a graduate of the PERF Senior Management Institute for Police and the California POST Command College.