Sacramento has installed 32 police observation devices, or PODs. Now the city, like New York, Houston, Miami, St. Louis, and others, is looking at the next step: the launch in October of a “real-time crime center,” a central location from which officers can monitor all their surveillance technologies, PODs included, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The idea is that consolidating information about criminal activity, from stalking complaints to potential lone wolf terrorist attacks, would make law enforcement more effective at investigating and perhaps preventing some incidents. The process would promote accountability and transparency at a time of rising tension between police and the black community, providing evidence of both police and suspect behavior during tense encounters, proponents say.
The technology raises big privacy issues. Already concerned about PODs, privacy advocates are concerned by the prospect of centralizing law-enforcement data, especially in a post-9/11 world where data is being shared more widely across federal, state, and local lines. The technology is already causing a populist backlash. “The theory of policing has changed,” says Rebecca Lonergan, a University of Southern California law professor who spent 16 years prosecuting federal public corruption and national security cases in Los Angeles. “There’s an understanding now that we really need to centralize all of our information.” It’s called predictive policing, and law enforcement agencies in many cities are already making it happen. In New York City, home to the oldest and arguably most sophisticated real-time crime center in the country, police can use surveillance and data analysis technology to identify suspected criminals or terrorists based on anything from a birthmark to a limp.