Now that many police departments across Massachusetts have mastered the use of platforms like Twitter and Facebook to get alerts and updates out to residents in their respective communities, officers are looking to stay on the forefront of other emerging technologies that will allow them to enhance their job activity.
More than a dozen departments are interested in toying around with Google Glass, the wearable device that has the capability to record activity hands-free, and could potentially make daily operations for officers a little bit easier.
“I’m a little skeptical; they’re still in a beta mode, or explorer mode, so everything really is not perfect quite yet. A few things need to be tweaked, but overall they have something great going for them, they’re very user friendly, and I don’t think it would take very long for someone to learn how to use them,” said Norwood Police Officer Andrew Jurewich, who took home a pair of Google Glass donated to the department so he could give them a test run.
Norwood Police are one of 15 departments that have requested to try the glasses, and are looking to see if they could help law enforcement officials while on duty. At the same time, police officers are trying to better understand how the glasses work in case they encounter people using them while on the job.
As the glasses become more commercially available, officers have been running into questions about how to deal with consumers wearing them. In California, a woman was recently cleared of any wrongdoing after being pulled over by police for having Google Glass on while behind the wheel. “The things are going on the shelves and a lot of [situations] will come down the line, and I think there will be a lot of learning experiences [for officers] where we may be recorded. We will have our hands tied about what legal action is there. This will be a game changer,” said Jurewich.
Officer Dave Costa, who will be wearing the Glasses for the Beverly Police, agreed. “We are always looking for new and innovative ways to improve our efficiency and safety in conducting investigations. At the same time we are also trying to understand the technology in case we come across our citizens wearing it on the street,” he said.
So far, the pair of Google Glass being tested by cops in Massachusetts has been provided to Peabody and Norwood police by WiredBlue, a startup company focused on law enforcement and technology. WiredBlue recently co-hosted a weekend-long Police Innovation Conference at Microsoft’s headquarters in Cambridge, which focused heavily on tech advancements in the law enforcement sector.
Officers from Beverly and Chelsea will try them out next, once Norwood is finished, before they’re shipped to agencies in other states, according to WiredBlue founder Peter Olson. Boston Police and Massachusetts State Police were not on the list of interested users, however. “There’s a lot of interest surrounding Glass, so we decided to loan out a pair free of charge to law enforcement agencies,” said Olson. “This lets them evaluate Glass, form some opinions, and get their hands on a pair without spending any money.”
Olson said he could see a variety of uses for police in the field, citing advantages like the hands-free voice command capabilities, and the “heads-up” display. “There are quite a number of potential apps that could be developed for this type of device. Of course, like anything, they need to be evaluated properly. Also any sort of privacy concerns would need to be addressed,” he said.
In the few days that he has had them, Officer Jurewich said he’s been impressed with what the glasses can do, but he doesn’t see Google Glass becoming a commodity for police in the immediate future. “I don’t see it coming into the force in the next six to 13 months, but maybe five years down the road,” he said, adding that the cost would likely keep police chiefs from requesting departments have them soon. “Maybe 15 years from now every officer will be wearing them, but not in the short term.”
Because officers already rely heavily on Google to look up addresses and other quick information, using their in-vehicle laptops, Jurewich thinks having Glass available with instant commands will make the job safer, and more productive.
“It’s hands free, you’re in the field, and a big thing for police is to always have your hands free and available,” he said. “We are experimenting now to get our hands on a few tablets to replace the laptops in our cruisers, because being able to take a tablet out and document an accident or scene with it and taking pictures—that mobility is huge. But if Google Glass comes into place, all you need to do to take a picture for evidence can be done with the push of a button, or through voice command.”
Officers in New York City have also been testing out the devices, and claim the technology could allow them to search a suspect’s arrest history and whether or not they have warrants. It could also provide maps, photos, and floor plans instantly, and record interactions during arrests or traffic stops if needed.
It could even help with Amber Alerts. “Right now we are receiving information [for those] over the radio. But Google Glass could show me a picture of the child that’s missing, and I then have it visually,” said Jurewich.
In the next few days as he continues to try out the different capabilities that the glasses have to offer, Jerwich said he will relay his findings to the police chief, and take other officers through a basic tutorial to show them how they function. “Each shift I go into, I give them to the [officers] and let them try them on, and get their feedback,” he said. “It’s been a great experience so far, and I would like to see Glass used by departments. But because it’s in such an early stage, it’s hard to say how well these apps will be developed.”
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