Wearable Sensor Technology and Potential uses Within law Enforcement

A few days ago, this blog covered a report analysing the growing number of devices on the Internet of Bodies and their potential opportunities, risks and governance. Among the devices discussed were ‘wearables’: technology worn on the body to capture data on the wearer’s health.

The RAND Corporation has published a report [1] on the potential uses of these wearable devices within law enforcement. The report is the result of a workshop held on behalf of the National Institute of Justice in the USA, in which also participated the Police Executive Research Forum.

The workshop was attended by law enforcement practitioners, researchers, and developers and their approach to the issue was articulated around four questions:

  • What is the current state and immediate future of wearable sensor technology (WSTs)?
  • How do they intersect with law enforcement interests, both for the individual officer and the agency?
  • What specific challenges does this technology present for data privacy, ownership, and citizens?
  • What are the salient issues associated with WSTs, and what are specific ways to address them?

Examples of the devices considered include wrist bands, chest straps, and smart textiles to collect and analyse officers’ health-related biomarkers and inform operational decision-making.

The main conclusions reached included the following:

  • Currently, the more affordable WSTs do not yet meet the levels of accuracy and precision needed to be useful as a decision-making support tool in law enforcement. In contrast, WSTs that meet these requirements are used in medical settings but are either cost-prohibitive or not portable.
  • The workshop participants believed that the short-term focus should be on preparing police organisations and their officers for a time when the technology will be more applicable to law enforcement roles.
  • The future will depend on how these devices can be adapted to officers’ daily tasks and how they can be integrated with the technology that law enforcement already carries. The measurements need to be valid and reliable, their interpretation needs to be clear, and policies need to be in place to manage and monitor the data. WST has the potential to assess an officer’s ability to work and help commanders decide which tasks to assign to which officers.
  • Law enforcement organisations need to participate in the development of these devices, as their requirements may not be the same as those for commercial devices.

 [1] Wearable Sensor Technology and Potential uses Within law Enforcement. Identifying High-Priority Needs to Improve Officer Safety, Health, and Wellness Using Wearable Sensor Technology. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA108-7.html


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