Magazine article USA TODAY

Technology to the Rescue?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Technology to the Rescue?

Article excerpt

"Researchers in the new Complex Social Interaction ... laboratory are using body-worn cameras and advanced scientific tools and techniques--such as data analytics, biometrics, and machine learning--to examine the complex factors that shape interactions between police and community members."

As the nation grapples with policing and security issues, criminal justice specialists at Washington State University are developing technology to improve police-community relations, officer training, and public safety. Researchers in the new Complex Social Interaction (CSI) laboratory are using body-worn cameras and advanced scientific tools and techniques--such as data analytics, biometrics, and machine learning--to examine the complex factors that shape interactions between police and community members.

The interdisciplinary, intercollegiate CSI research team, led by David Makin, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology, is the first to explore police officer decisionmaking and interpersonal interaction by examining data from body-worn cameras, "This research and technology will provide insight into police practice as well as real-world applications for improving organizations and decisionmaking at the individual level," he stresses.

The CSI team is using the information to design algorithms and new software to help public safety agencies improve police-community relations; reduce conflict, cost, and liability; and enhance the health and well-being of law officers and their communities.

Since its launch early this year, the lab has analyzed more than 2,000 police-community interactions and numerous records from law enforcement incidents to identify, code, and catalog key variables associated with a range of outcomes, positive to negative. Location, lighting, time of day, number of people present, gender, race, verbal and physical stress, and intensity of the interaction are among the myriad contextual factors assessed.

This approach combines automated and manual coding to generate more objective and holistic descriptions of police-community interactions than other existing methods provide, Makin contends. Preliminary results of the studies have been published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.

To aid the CSI research, Arizona-based Axon (formerly TASER International) is equipping the lab with its latest body-worn camera hardware and software. The donation will enable the researchers to undertake a range of experiments exploring the situational and dynamic factors associated with decisionmaking and the efficacy of police training.

'The research that David Makin and his team are doing at WSU is groundbreaking," says Rick Smith, Axon CEO and founder. "It represents another exciting avenue for body-worn camera usage, potentially leading to the development of tools that will make body-worn camera footage more useful for training and for understanding patterns of behavior. …

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