Addressing Emerging Trends to Support the Future of Criminal Justice
Mar 19, 2018
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Anyone who uses a credit card and has recently been notified of a possible hack to his or her private information knows that technology is a blessing until it falls into the wrong hands and becomes a curse. The Bureau of Justice Assistance, an office of the U.S. Department of Justice, formed an expert advisory panel to assess the impacts that technology and related emerging social trends could have on criminal justice and to identify appropriate responses.
The RAND Justice Policy Program teamed with the panel, called the Criminal Justice Technology Forecasting Group (CJTFG), to (1) identify major, emerging social and technology trends likely in the next three to five years; (2) assess the impacts, both threats and opportunities, that these trends could have on criminal justice; and (3) identify promising responses to the trends, including recommendations that advise agencies on how to use key technologies more effectively, advise creators and funders on making technologies more useful and less risky to implement, and directly support the criminal justice field.
Through a series of workshops held from 2014 through 2016, the team identified nearly two dozen trends that coalesced around six themes. A new report, summarized here, discusses these themes and the recommendations that the team generated. The table below shows the trends and recommended action plans ("ways ahead"). The single biggest takeaway from the experts: Information technology (IT) opportunities (such as big data, analytics and artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things) abound, but taking advantage of those opportunities is thwarted by the lack of clear business cases for them; a lack of business processes for implementing them; and a lack of knowledge of common security, privacy, and civil-rights protections to prevent their misuse.
The experts emphasized that the lack of clear business cases and the lack of implementation business processes impede investing in and taking advantage of emerging information technologies. They also cited the importance of identifying stakeholders' needs and getting their buy-in when developing business cases and implementing new technologies. One example of the need for business cases was a call to better establish the vital role of fusion centers in providing useful information, products, and services for law enforcement. As an example of how to develop business cases, the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative has developed information exchanges between agencies that service offenders and the rest of the criminal justice system.
Recommendation 1: Develop business cases for key technologies and common process templates for implementing new technologies.
Data and analytics are already playing a role in predictive policing (pinpointing people, places, and times at increased risk for crimes), as well as in risk-based bail setting and sentencing. Yet potential users lack awareness of existing training opportunities, references, and other resources on criminal justice applications, especially those related to cybersecurity. The experts called for research into expanding the availability of training and reference materials and improving information-sharing and for pilot projects that would integrate data, analytics, and IT into community-based practices.
One priority is the pressing need for improved situational-awareness displays to identify, communicate, and respond quickly to threats; the technology for providing these displays is rapidly emerging, so improving them is a matter of leveraging that technology. Another priority is for the federal government to support crime-analysis capabilities for state and local agencies; the CJTFG developed a white paper on how such support might work (an appendix to the report).
Recommendation 2: Conduct research to improve how criminal justice technology information is made available to both practitioners and researchers.
Despite increasing pressure to employ cybersecurity and protect the public's privacy and civil rights when using the new big data, analytics, and surveillance technologies, guidelines remain inconsistent, legal precedent is often lacking (resulting in security and privacy concerns), and the public's expectations, shaped by television shows and advertising, often fail to be met. On top of those issues is the fact that greater encryption of electronic devices is increasingly hampering law enforcement agencies from obtaining needed evidence ("going dark").
Recommendation 3: Integrate security, privacy, and civil-rights protections into the common business process (from Recommendation 1) for adapting new technologies.
Recommendation 4: Educate the public on how criminal justice technologies work (or do not work) in the real world.
Recommendation 5: Collect data on the extent and severity of the going-dark problem.
To realize the true benefits of emerging technologies, agencies must integrate information on a national scale, and managing growing floods of digital evidence is a key part of this imperative and a rapidly emerging trend. However, small, resource-poor agencies lack the needed capabilities. Organizational cultures can resist information-sharing. Further, some brands of record-management and other IT systems that criminal justice systems use frequently do not support data interoperability and sometimes even exclude information-sharing in their licensing provisions; the CJTFG cosponsored a resolution to require making record-management system data exportable for sharing with other systems.
Recommendation 6: Research changing cultures to support information-sharing and safeguarding.
Recommendation 7: Develop regional models for information-sharing capabilities.
Agencies face conflicting pressures to minimize use of force while cracking down on violence and terrorism. Missteps can quickly affect police–community relations and alienate groups of people from each other. Body-worn cameras are a promising tool for accountability of both police and the public; the experts suggested examining their use for investigative purposes as well. CJTFG experts also expressed a strong need for less-lethal weapons capable of subduing and restraining violent attackers, in order to provide alternatives to lethal force or grappling.
Recommendation 8: Identify practices and technologies that can both reduce crime and improve community relations.
Recommendation 9: Explore international exchanges on using cameras for investigative and accountability purposes.
Recommendation 10: Develop new immobilization and restraint devices to provide alternatives to lethal uses of force.
Implementing new technologies can have both unintended consequences and major, sometimes unanticipated, benefits. Technological developments often outpace associated developments in law, regulations, policy, culture, and knowledge regarding effective use. In addition, many of the technologies are young, and costs might remain prohibitive. In the business cases (recommendation 1), including the need for security, privacy, and civil-rights protections (recommendation 3) can help protect against unintended drawbacks, although care must be taken to avoid stifling the emergence of unanticipated benefits.
Two emerging technologies appear worth following. The first is rapid deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) typing coupled with use of DNA to create profiles, and the second is technologies to detect guns, knives, and other weapons at a distance.
Recommendation 11: Assess the potential of remote weapon-detection capabilities.
|Lack of business cases and processes for new technologiesa||
|Emergence of big data, analytics, and challenges of using thema||
|Security, privacy, and civil-rights challengesa||
|Getting to true field-wide information integration||
|Improving safety and community relations||
|New technologies and new consequences||
a This theme is part of an overall narrative that IT opportunities are being hampered by business process obstacles and challenges in ensuring security and civil liberties.
b Touch DNA systems can type DNA with very small samples, such as skin cells that an offender leaves behind after touching an object at a crime scene.
Going forward, the initial priorities are to establish the business cases for the new technologies; develop the work processes needed to implement them; and integrate them with the core security, privacy, and civil-rights protections needed for successful implementation. Better ways of informing and educating practitioners and technologists will then help get the word out about why and how to use the new technologies.
NOTE: These are the positions the members held when they served on the CJTFG.
This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research brief series. RAND research briefs present policy-oriented summaries of individual published, peer-reviewed documents or of a body of published work.
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