Wearable Sensor Technology and Potential Uses Within Law Enforcement

Identifying High-Priority Needs to Improve Officer Safety, Health, and Wellness Using Wearable Sensor Technology

by Sean E. Goodison, Jeremy D. Barnum, Michael J. D. Vermeer, Dulani Woods, Siara I. Sitar, Shoshana R. Shelton, Brian A. Jackson

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Research Questions

  1. What is the current state of WST?
  2. How do WSTs intersect with law enforcement interests, both for the individual officer and the agency?
  3. What are the specific challenges that WST presents for data privacy, ownership, and the public?
  4. What are the salient issues associated with WST, and what are specific ways to address them?

Many wearable sensor technology (WST) devices on the market enable individuals and organizations to track and monitor personal health metrics in real time. These devices are worn by the user and contain sensors to capture various biomarkers. Although these technologies are not yet sufficiently developed for law enforcement purposes overall, WSTs continue to advance rapidly and offer the potential to equip law enforcement officers and agencies with data to improve officer safety, health, and wellness.

The RAND Corporation and the Police Executive Research Forum, on behalf of the National Institute of Justice, organized a workshop of practitioners, researchers, and developers to discuss the current state of WST and how it might be applied by law enforcement organizations. Workshop participants discussed possible issues with acceptance of WST among members of law enforcement; new policies that will be necessary if and when WST is introduced in a law enforcement setting; and what data are gathered, how these data are collected, and how they are interpreted and used.

Key Findings

Current WSTs are not sufficiently developed for law enforcement purposes overall

  • Commercial devices, although inexpensive and portable, lack the accuracy and precision needed to inform and support decisionmaking.
  • WSTs used in medical settings, although capable of excellent accuracy and precision with high-quality data, are cost-prohibitive for wide distribution and are not portable.

The short-term focus should be on preparing for a time when technology will be more applicable to law enforcement roles

  • The key is to obtain buy-in among law enforcement officers now — not for current technology, but for devices developed in the future and possible downstream effects on the field as WSTs are deployed to support officer safety and wellness, workforce retention, liability, and other issues.

The intersection between WST and law enforcement is currently defined by uncertainty

  • The applicability of WST to law enforcement will be proportionate to how well the technology can reliably inform decisions about an officer's daily activities.
  • Devices need to seamlessly integrate with the technology that law enforcement already carries, measures need to be valid and reliable, interpretation of the data needs to be clear, and policies need to be in place for managing and monitoring the data.

Now is the time for law enforcement to participate in the process of developing WSTs

  • Law enforcement specifications for WSTs might not match the commercial industry standard, so law enforcement needs to talk to — and be heard by — WST manufacturers.

Recommendations

  • Officers should be educated about the multiple uses and purposes of WST.
  • Pilot testing should be conducted, and feedback should be collected on experiences.
  • Outcome measures should be identified early in the process.
  • Policies and processes for when and why data may be shared should be developed and implemented.
  • A sequenced or phased approach should be developed for taking validated technology to the field for scaled evaluations.
  • Individual baselines should be established to account for differences among individuals.
  • The state of the research should be monitored, and law enforcement and public expectations should be managed.
  • A set of best practices should be defined for consumer wearable devices.
  • Data should be encrypted at each layer, and end-to-end encryption should be employed.
  • Guidance and education about how to interpret data and metrics should be developed for WST users.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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