On his penultimate day in office as New York City police commissioner, William Bratton gave the keynote address at an NYU Law symposium on “Policing and Accountability in the Digital Age.” Co-sponsored by the Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice and Policing Project, the symposium examined the ways in which policing is being transformed by the use of technology such as location tracking, predictive policing, social media, and body cameras.
Bratton observed that the “revolution of technology” has drastically changed policing methods over the course of his 46-year career. “In 1970, as a Boston police officer, the equipment on my belt consisted of a six-shot revolver, six spare rounds and loops, a set of handcuffs, 12-inch club, a ticket book, a badge, and during my first year we were also issued mace,” Bratton said. Now, by contrast, “In the palm of every one of our police officers’ hands is a custom-designed smartphone, unlike any of the ones that you carry. It gives that officer in the field access to just about every piece of information that we have in the department.”
Technology has not only revolutionized policing, Bratton said; it has also changed how crimes can be committed. “Today a teenager in a basement in Brussels can steal from a grandmother on her stoop in Brooklyn, or hackers in Russia can attempt to steal the American election, and a recruiter in Syria can spread poisonous propaganda to vulnerable minds here in Queens.”
The adaptation of technology in policing is, therefore, necessary to combat the ever-evolving threat of cybercrime, he argued. “We are the leading department in this country, if not the world, in our embrace of, our creativity, and our use of technology. And we are very mindful of all the responsibilities that come with that,” Bratton said, noting that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) is working with the Policing Project to implement a one-year pilot program to determine whether and how body cameras can be used to improve police-citizen interactions and public safety.
In addition to using technology to better track and respond to crime, he said, the NYPD is also employing these innovations to help police officers connect with the communities they serve. All police officers now have email addresses where members of the public can contact them—an initiative that did not begin until a year ago—and all precinct captains maintain Twitter accounts.
As the NYPD continues to lead the way in the adaptation of new technology, Bratton said, it would also strive to participate in more events like the one at NYU Law “so that we are able to learn along with all of you what can be done to ensure that as we move forward, we move forward in a way that we continue to have success in ensuring public safety, our most sacred obligation… and that we do it in an appropriate way, particularly in the area of technology.”
Watch the full video of the keynote address (52 min):
Posted September 28, 2016