Privacy SOS

Law enforcement survey results show increasing reliance on advanced technologies

In April 2011, the private non-profit police think tank Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) gave a presentation to select police chiefs from departments nationwide on technology and law enforcement. The presentation used statistics gleaned from a survey PERF distributes to police departments every few years, looking to find out what kind of tools departments use and what kinds of tools they’d like to have.

Seventy agencies responded to the 2011 survey. The average size of the respondents’ jurisdictions is about half a million people. The smallest to respond serves a region with a population of just over twelve thousand people and the largest, nearly ten million. These departments have between 10 and thirteen thousand sworn officers. That’s to say, the responding agencies are large and small, rural and urban. Below are some of the more interesting highlights from the 2011 survey results. (You can read about an earlier PERF survey and a report it subsequently co-published with surveillance and war contractor Lockheed Martin here.)

The results of the survey confirm that police are increasingly relying on advanced technologies to accomplish ordinary policing objectives:

  • 70 percent of responding agencies use “predictive policing” (technologies that aim to prevent crime before it occurs);
  • 90 percent of agencies intend to expand their use of predictive policing over the next five years;
  • 23 percent of agencies “stream video from fixed surveillance cameras to police vehicles”;
  • “Over the next five years, 61% of agencies plan to increase the number of police vehicles that receive streaming video from fixed surveillance cameras”;
  • 81 percent of police cars in those 61 percent of agencies will within five years have technology enabling officers to monitor fixed surveillance camera feeds;
  • 71 percent of agencies use license plate readers;
  • 85 percent of agencies plan to acquire or expand their use of license plate readers within the next five years;
  • 83 percent of surveyed agencies “use GPS to track suspect movements”;
  • “Over the next 5 years, 80% of agencies plan” to expand GPS tracking;
  • 89 percent of agencies “monitor social media to identify investigative leads”;
  • 86 percent of agencies “monitor social media to monitor/follow up on leads or threats”;
  • Within the next five years, “45% of responding agencies plan to increase their use of facial recognition software.”

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.