By Deborah Highland,

Foam body armor capable of stopping bullets, including those that can pierce body armor, directed energy devices that send out signals to disrupt and stall a vehicle’s electrical system and portable drug testing kits capable of identifying more than 300 substances are just a few of the new or emerging technologies of interest to police.

Like nearly every other field of work, technology has led to several advances in law enforcement. DNA evidence has not only helped police solve all types of crimes, it also speaks volumes to juries.

Digital evidence has been around since the advent of cellular telephones and before that pagers.

But it has only been in the last 20 years that small police agencies have started paying closer attention to that type of evidence that is available in almost all crimes.

Most recently, police agencies large and small have been buying body cameras to place on officers to document evidence and any issues that arise regarding an officer’s behavior on the job.

And for several years, many police departments have been using in-car computers so police can write their reports, print citations and file paperwork directly from their cruisers.

The Bowling Green Police Department, in addition to in-car computers, has also issued tablet computers to its officers on motorcycles. The tablets are stored inside the saddlebags along with a portable printer. Late last year into early 2017, BGPD officers were given body cams.

Technology and technological advancements are extremely important in law enforcement, Bowling Green Police Department spokesman Officer Ronnie Ward said. “New procedures and processes in the way crime scenes are investigated allow better analyzation of particular pieces of evidence such as DNA and finger printing. You think about the advancements that have already been made and what does everyone think is in store for the next 10 years, we all wonder what tools we will have 10 years from now that allow our jobs to be more thorough or easier, being more exact in being able to determine someone’s identity.”

Some new technology such as enhanced drug testing devices have been introduced while other items are being researched.

“There are a couple of devices out there to test drugs on site,” Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force Director Tommy Loving said. “They run about $15,000 to $20,000 each. They at this point have not been approved to use in court.”

One device, TruNarc, tests for more than 370 substances, he said. Even though it hasn’t  been approved for use in court in Kentucky, the proliferation of powder fentanyl makes this device attractive.

Clandestine-produced fentanyl is an opioid many drug sellers are using to add bulk to their heroin and to make their own pills they then pass off as more expensive pain pills.

The substance can be absorbed through the skin or could inadvertently be inhaled by an officer during an arrest of someone who has the drug in powder form.

“From a safety standpoint with the increasing threat of fentanyl and carfentanyl, we could know immediately what we’re dealing with,” Loving said. “It would also, for initial charges, be helpful when you encounter a powder substance, you would know what that substance is immediately.”

“With fentanyl if it’s ingested by breathing or touching the powder substance … it can cause an immediate overdose requiring an administration of Narcan. So if we went into that type of environment, we could use this device to immediately determine how dangerous the environment was, then we could back out until we have proper protection on to deal with it,” Loving said.

Carfentynal is “multiple times more potent that fentanyl. And as dangerous as fentanyl is, carfentanyl is much more dangerous. We have seen a little fentanyl in Warren County,” he said.

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Loving learned about a lightweight material that could be used for ballistic vests.

“I was shown a very lightweight material that can be used for bulletproof vests that hopefully will be in production in the next few years that will hopefully make them more wearer-friendly,” Loving said.

A professor at North Carolina State University developed a composite metal foam that pulverizes armor-piercing bullets on impact, according to an online article on the university’s website. That material has been studied for several applications.

The National Institute of Justice is testing technology for police pursuit management.

In 1995, a tire deflation device was created to immobilize moving vehicles on the roadway. Commonly referred to as spike strips, police have been using that technology since it became available, but setting the strips out can be hazardous to officers on the side of the road with traffic whizzing by at 70 mph.

The NIJ recently provided money for research of electronic devices that can be used to stall cars. One of the devices, like stop sticks, require that an officer place it on the road.

Other devices, directed energy devices, send out directed energy to stall a vehicle.

“As with electronic discharge devices, directed energy devices use an (electromagnetic) pulse to short a vehicle’s electrical system. Unlike the electronic discharge and tire deflator devices, however, directed energy devices avoid the operational limitations that come with devices that must be close to the targeted vehicle,” according to the NIJ website.

This technology offers a safer alternative to tire deflation devices.

“If it was available and affordable to law enforcement agencies, that would be an invaluable tool, as regular tire deflation devices are extremely dangerous to the deploying officer,” said Stephen Harmon, former Warren County Sheriff’s Department spokesman who was appointed jailer. “For an officer to be on the side of the road and deploying that device puts their life in danger just by the sheer proximity of the fleeing vehicle.”

The NIJ is working with a Virginia company and several federal and municipal law enforcement agencies to test a remote tracking system on fleeing vehicles.

The company, StarChase, created a tiny GPS system that uses laser targeting and a compressed air device to fire the GPS system at a car. A special adhesive holds the GPS in place on the car and the GPS transmits the car’s location every few seconds, according to the NIJ website.

“Police work is certainly like technology in that it changes daily,” Harmon said. “A lot of times techniques that are taught are outdated from year to year. Law enforcement work hinges upon technology in this day and time. Without a computer and internet access from a police cruiser, law enforcement officers’ abilities are decreased tremendously. An example would be serving a warrant, a protective order, working any type of criminal case or collision and even identifying a potential suspect with a photo is all done routinely today from the cruiser.”

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