Cover: Visions of Law Enforcement Technology in the Period 2024-2034

Visions of Law Enforcement Technology in the Period 2024-2034

Report of the Law Enforcement Futuring Workshop

Published Mar 16, 2015

by Richard Silberglitt, Brian G. Chow, John S. Hollywood, Dulani Woods, Mikhail Zaydman, Brian A. Jackson


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Research Questions

  1. How might technology and society evolve in the future?
  2. How might the evolution of technology and society affect the use of technology by law enforcement?
  3. What are the priority needs of law enforcement related to technology, including research and development, training, policy and practice?

This report describes the results of the Law Enforcement Futuring Workshop, which was held at RAND's Washington Office in Arlington, Virginia, from July 22 to 25, 2014. The objective of this workshop was to identify high-priority technology needs for law enforcement based on consideration of current and future trends in society, technology, and law enforcement over a ten- to 20-year time period. During the workshop, participants developed sets of future scenarios, constructed pathways from the present to alternative futures, and considered how law enforcement use of technology might affect these pathways. They then identified technology needs (including training and changes in policies or practice) that, if addressed, could enable pathways to desirable futures or prevent or mitigate the effects of pathways to undesirable futures. On the final day of the workshop, the technology needs were prioritized using a Delphi method. The output of this workshop described in the report included ten future scenarios and 30 technology needs. The technology needs fell into three general categories — technology-related knowledge and practice, information sharing and use, and technological research and development — and were placed into three priority tiers.

Key Findings

Scenarios Generated

  • The most desirable futures envisioned by workshop participants included ones in which society comes to terms with large amounts of formerly private data being widely available, and ones in which network-centric policing is widely used.
  • Desirable scenarios, but less desirable than the above, included ones in which law enforcement operations are increasingly militarized.
  • Undesirable scenarios included ones in which police are overwhelmed by duties such as responding to natural disasters.
  • Another set of undesirable scenarios was associated with a "do nothing" approach, in which law enforcement fails to keep up with the rapid pace of technology and becomes less effective as a result.

Technology Needs Identified

  • Workshop participants identified 30 technology needs, with general themes focusing on improving the sharing and use of information, improving law enforcement's knowledge of technology and how to use it, and development and fielding of various affordable new technologies.

Conclusions of the Workshop

  • Positive steps to address identified needs in technology, policy, and practice must be taken to avoid paths to futures that workshop participants identified as undesirable. The literal "do nothing" path was seen as leading to highly undesirable futures, and even the "do just enough to stay afloat path" was seen as leading to poor outcomes.
  • Because technology and society will continue to evolve, moving to and staying on paths to futures that the participants identified as desirable will require continuing action to establish and retain public support and for law enforcement practitioners to effectively meet technology-based challenges.
  • Enabling paths to desirable futures in the period 2024–2034 will require addressing identified needs in practice, education, and training; information sharing; and development and/or adaptation of technology now.

The research reported here was conducted in the RAND Safety and Justice Program, a part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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