Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Commentary

December 21, 2013

Police should get used to the GPS microscope

(Continued)

But as management and even a few editorial pages have pointed out, Boston’s police are just getting in step with a majority of departments around the country — nearly 70 percent, according to the Police Executive Research Forum. It is an irreversible tide because its advantages (that have nothing to do with invading cops’ privacy) are too obvious and substantial to ignore.

It can make crime fighting more effective, by synching statistics on high-crime areas with the GPS devices. It can improve response times to incidents, since commanders will more easily be able to deploy the closest vehicle.

It can improve officer safety — an advantage that some officers acknowledge. One comment in an online police officer forum noted that, “It can mark your last known vehicle location or even tell dispatch where you are if ‘it’ hits the fan in the general vicinity of your unit and you can’t get to your handheld.”

As another put it, “You call for help, everyone can see where you are.”

But, yes, there are clearly disciplinary components to it, as well.

GPS is used to make sure officers are patrolling in their assigned sectors. It tracks their speed: In Louisiana, an officer is in trouble following a recent high-speed crash in which a woman was injured. According to state police, the GPS in his cruiser had logged him speeding more than 700 times during the previous 10 months, sometimes out of his jurisdiction. Just before the crash, the GPS showed he had been doing 100 mph.

According to civil rights organizations like the ACLU of Massachusetts, this kind of monitoring goes too far. “Tracking someone’s location as they go about their day-to-day life is incredibly invasive,” the group said in a statement.

That is a (likely deliberate) distortion of what is going on. The surveillance occurs only during a crucial portion of their “day-to-day life” — their work shift. Once they are off duty, there is no GPS monitoring of their activities.

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