Pull up a chair, good citizen, because I've got a story about law enforcement and surveillance that you're actually going to like. The Los Angeles Police Department is now using a new telematics system in 50 of its Ford Police Interceptors. In other words, the watchmen are being watched—in real-time.
The stated purposes of the new cruiser-tracking system, which Ford developed with the California-based software company Telogis, include both safety and transparency. The technology knows when an officer is speeding (and by how much), when he's wearing his seatbelt, when he turns the lights on, when he brakes suddenly, when he runs a red light, and so forth. It even knows when the anti-lock brakes are engaged and when the car spins. So if a cop is driving recklessly, either in pursuit or just for the fun of it, his superiors will know about it while it's happening.
This is great news. And it's dangerous. Not only for the police officers themselves but also for everyone else on the road and the pavement. "From a business standpoint, these are expensive vehicles with expensive employees driving them", Bryan Vila, a former officer in LA, told Wired. "When they crash, they're also more likely to kill by-standers and civilians, so there's a public safety side. I've been looking forward to seeing the LAPD implementing this."
Of course, installing this technology in just 50 LAPD cruisers won't solve the larger problem of police abusing their power, but it's a good start. It's also an encouraging development in the trend to keep an eye on law enforcement after decades of controversial incidents when citizens found themselves hurt by police instead of helped. You could look as far back as the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles (and the riots that followed) to the recent shooting of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri (and the riots that followed) and realise that this problem isn't going to go away by itself.
The new police-tracking cruisers will be available across the US from next year, as other burgeoning police-tracking technology like body cameras becomes increasingly popular. Of course, this is not to say that all cops drive badly or abuse their power. Much of the reasoning behind the LAPD implementing this technology just makes good safety sense. [Motor Authority, Wired]
Image via Ford