The Failure of America’s New Policing Technologies


America’s adoption of advanced policing technologies, such as Shotspotter, has not significantly reduced crime rates. Despite substantial spending on these tools, clearance rates for crimes remain low, raising questions about their effectiveness.

The Flawed Tech Behind a Controversial Case

In May 2020, a 66-year-old man from Chicago faced murder charges due to faulty evidence from Shotspotter, an acoustic gunfire-detection system. This resulted in the release of the accused and a subsequent lawsuit against the city’s police department.

High Spending and Controversy Surrounding Policing Tech

Chicago spends over $10 million annually on Shotspotter, yet there are doubts about its effectiveness, leading to calls for ending the contract. Additionally, other advanced technologies, such as facial recognition, AI analytics, and mobile-phone tracking, have raised concerns due to their significant cost and questionable impact on crime reduction.

Questionable Impact on Crime Reduction

While these technologies offer unprecedented crime-tracing capabilities, the overall impact on crime reduction remains minimal. National data shows that clearance rates for violent crimes, including murders and non-fatal shootings, have reached all-time lows. Criminal adaptability and the overwhelming amount of data pose significant challenges to law enforcement.

Challenges and Drawbacks of Policing Tech

Criminals’ evolving tactics, such as wearing masks and using burner phones, have undermined the effectiveness of surveillance technologies. Additionally, law enforcement often struggles to effectively utilize the vast amount of information gathered, leading to resource drain and inefficiencies in crime prevention.

Doubts about the Role of Technology in Crime Reduction

Studies have revealed that while gunfire-detection technology like Shotspotter enhances evidence collection, it does not translate into a decrease in actual gun crimes. Moreover, false alerts consume police resources, raising concerns about the effectiveness of these technologies in improving public safety.

The Role of Policing Practices and Trust in Communities

Experts emphasize the need for police practices that effectively enhance public safety, rather than solely relying on technological solutions. Concerns arise that excessive focus on new gadgets may overshadow proactive policing strategies that build public trust and prevent crimes before they occur.

The Dilemma of Prioritizing Technology Over Trust-Building

The allure of shiny new policing gadgets might lead to the perpetuation of outdated law enforcement tactics. Prioritizing reactive measures over proactive strategies can undermine public trust, ultimately hindering the effectiveness of policing efforts.

Challenges to Law Enforcement’s Credibility

Mounting distrust towards law enforcement, as evidenced by jury acquittals in cases lacking video evidence, underscores the erosion of public trust in the police. The longstanding principles of proactive policing and community engagement remain essential for effective crime prevention and public safety.