A recent editorial by Mike Bebernes asks a very timely question: Is it time to take the police out of traffic stops? And unless you’ve been living under that proverbial rock, you know full well what Mike’s talking about.
Not only do police spend a lot of time on petty incidents like minor moving violations, but they too often do a bad job of handling them, unfairly profiling drivers based on racial attributes and preconceptions, and allowing tensions (mostly caused by anxiety over bad cops and unfair treatment) to escalate into violent altercations and death. And despite years of attention on profiling, unfair treatment and the disproportionate death toll on minorities, the problem continues to escalate.
The fact is, the police have better things to do than engage in risky car chases and wrestle with drivers over rushed red lights and missing tags. And they need a buffer between them and the public that is more impartial and capable of putting itself in harm’s way in minor situations, to keep things from getting out of hand. In an era when we need to re-examine how we deploy and prioritize our law enforcement fraternities, currently spending their time and effort on any minor issues that can be handled more safely and effectively, should be clear areas to address.
Fortunately, we have just the thing to address this issue, and it’s called—say it with me—technology. In fact, we already use a lot of tech to aid and mitigate the role of law enforcement on our roads. And we can do so much more, with a more thorough application of more and smarter technology.
An easy example is expanding camera use. Combining high-quality cameras with smart technology, including radar and weight sensors, cameras should be our first line of defense on the streets. Cameras can detect speeders and light runners, and track vehicles on toll roads, easily. Many of these cameras are strategically located because of their relatively small numbers; but if we built these devices in mass production numbers, they could be deployed, not just at one area of a roadway, but all along the roadway. Enough of them can even do the job of tracking a vehicle until an owner can be notified of a problem, or the vehicle can be intercepted if necessary.
In another example: Decades ago, auto manufacturers started embedding Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) in prominent and not-so-prominent places on our vehicles. This served a purpose of making it easier to identify a model type for service and repair purposes, but it also made it easier to identify individual vehicles for theft and ownership purposes. These VIN numbers would be even more valuable if they could be read by remote sensors; imagine an RFID chip (or nine) embedded in secure or hidden places in a vehicle, which could be read by a receiver.
Today many high-crime areas are known for the frequency of plate-stealing and illegal usage on other (often stolen) vehicles. If a network of cameras could capture a plate (or lack of one), and RFID readers could identify the car, illegally-used plates could be identified, and vehicles could be more easily targeted for law enforcement.
Then there’s the next step in surveillance: Drones. Camera- or sensor-equipped drones can be deployed to monitor individual sites or track suspect vehicles, reducing or removing the need for high-speed chases and even close-up confrontations. Drones can be networked to hand-off tracking regimens to other drones, all in touch with human-monitored networks using smart technology to cover their jurisdictions.
Considering the sheer number of accidents caused by many of these violations, that alone will be a good thing. But it should also mean that the administration of law enforcement policies on the roads should be much more fair and balanced, since a computer isn’t likely to pull a man over just because he’s black, or foreign, or “suspicious-looking,” the very human attitudes that are getting police in trouble all over the country.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest the science-fictiony possibility that AI might develop its own idea of profiling, based strictly around statistical analyses; it will be up to human programmers to make sure AI programs are designed well enough to minimize statistics-based profiling, or develop new monitoring or procedural practices designed to better evaluate a situation and negate profiling. It would be a never-ending process of testing and evaluating programs to ensure an accurate and effective system of identifying crimes and taking proper action.
Coupling that with automated systems that establish the penalty of a crime and send the decision or penalty to the perpetrator without direct confrontations makes for a method of enforcing the law without directly endangering police or civilians. A system of allowing challenges to a ticket or penalty to be addressed and possibly escalated also needs to be established, preferably with the automated system being the first stop to effectively and efficiently solve issues without increasing tempers.
What does all this mean? Automated smart moving violation systems sending you notices and fines through the paper or electronic mail means it’ll be harder to get away with most vehicle violations, yes. It will de-escalate moving violation issues, since notices and fines will happen after the fact and not involve nerve-wracking and possibly dangerous stops by police. It will free up law enforcement to deal with more serious issues and better use their time. And it will reduce unfair profiling, hazardous traffic stops and escalating situations caused by overly-adrenalized police and civilians.
If those aren’t enough reasons to automate the police, I don’t know what is.
You can read Mike’s editorial on Yahoo.