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What Will Law Enforcement Look Like 20 Years From Now?


The American police had a difficult year in 2014. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, among others, have led to a review of how police forces operate and how they react with communities. The U.S. Government is keen to create a police department that is fit for the future. To help with this, they have called in professionals called police futurists.

The idea of police futurists may seem like something out of Stephen Spielberg’s “Minority Report”, where the police of the future predict crimes before they happen. However, in reality police futurists rely on the work of behavioral analysts. The Latest News spoke with a leading professor of criminology to find out more.

Behavioral analysts work to understand how people behave and why. Some of them research neurological disorders, like autism or traumatic brain injury, while others specialize in fields like mental health and substance abuse. Behavioral analysts who work with law enforcement offer professional insights into the criminal mind. They’re learning which parenting styles and environments correlate with criminal behavior, and they’re also learning the unique neurological characteristics of the criminal brain. Police futurists hope that these characteristics will help parents, teachers, and other adults within a community soften potentially alarming behaviors in young children before they commit crimes.

Before police can begin to predict who might commit crimes, behavioral analysts have to overcome some persistent myths about what criminals are like. Scott Bonn, Ph.D., a professor of criminology at Drew University, has written about false impressions that the public has concerning criminals. He emphasizes that not all criminals have mental health problems, and the vast majority of people treated for mental health issues never commit a crime. Also, few killers meet the legal definition of insanity, which would refer to killers who committed crimes because they were mentally ill without understanding the consequences of their actions.

Futuristic Gun

Render on how some see futuristic guns in the near future

However, as Dr. Scott Bonn explains, certain antisocial personality disorders, including psychopathy, often correlate with criminal behavior. In a healthy home environment with assistance from a mental health professional, many psychopathic tendencies can be curbed, and psychopaths can learn not to dissociate from their emotions. When they learn to manage their antisocial behaviors and develop empathy for others, psychopaths can lead normal lives. However, because they are often calm and charismatic by the time they become adults, most people fail to recognize the psychopaths in their midst.

Furthermore, Dr. Bonn notes, while Hollywood tales, like the story of Hannibal Lector, have created the myth of the criminal genius, the intelligence profiles of serial killers do not really differ from the typical person. The reason that most serial killers evade law enforcement comes down to their obsessive natures and meticulous attention to detail. However, according to Dr. Bonn, psychopaths with high levels of intelligence often become excellent white-collar criminals. For police futurists, a major component of curbing crime would include addressing psychopathic behavior before it turns ugly.

Police futurists aim to do more than try to predict behavior. They also imagine the tools that both police and criminals will use in the future. For example, in a blog post for the Society of Police Futurists International, Tony Hallett, CEO of Unmanned Response, outlined the potential for criminals to execute crimes similar to the Boston Marathon bombing using unmanned drones.

Unmanned Drones

Could unmanned drones be used for attacks?

Utilizing unmanned drones instead of suicide bombers, criminals could target public areas, conduct attacks with deadly accuracy and timing, and avoid dying or being detected by surveillance tools. U.S. law enforcement officials have already arrested at least two suspects in America for planning crimes that would use unmanned drones. In England, terrorists have been arrested for planning to strap explosives to driverless cars and drive them onto U.K. military bases.

Modern police departments are required anticipate what policing will look like in the future. Modern policing is built around fighting physical, conflict-based crime. However, tomorrow’s crime fighting will require both technological and financial intelligence as crime is predicted to moves from the corner convenience store into cyberspace.

Dr. Bonn explains that police futurists do not only think about criminals and crimes. They additionally consider recruiting and building the police forces of the future. The police officers of tomorrow will need technological knowledge, and they will need to deal with rapid social change.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.