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The Communications Center Of The Future

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Nano-Technology and Policing

by Kari Mendoza, Beaumont Police Department (CA)

At 6:00 pm a dispatcher is reporting for work in a mid-sized Police Department in Riverside County.  He’s subjected to retinal and fingerprint scans for access into the building; then greeted by a supervisor (who quickly takes vital signs and a blood sample).  Once cleared for duty, he’s given assignments for the day.  He proceeds to his workstation and logs on to the computer, which is attached to an array of eight sixty-inch plasma touch screens.  A quick video clip of the previous shifts activity is played for briefing. 

Within minutes, teleconferencing is live with neighboring communication centers.  Systems integration, which allows various computer systems regardless of the platform they are built upon to communicate, enables the police to share data in the widest format possible.  The integration costs were covered by a Federal Homeland Security Mandate that required all local, state and federal agencies to comply.  A quick discussion ensues amongst dispatchers regarding a sex registrant and parolees wandering between jurisdictions.  Then, a 911 call is received regarding a riot that ensued between some religious minority groups.

Cell phone video and photos are streaming in to the communications center.  Facial recognition software is activated using the camera surveillance network.  It is quickly determined that the leader of one of the groups is wanted on felony charges by the Department of Homeland Security. The dispatcher immediately activates a system feature that notifies surrounding law enforcement officers of the event and mutual aid is triggered.  The wanted subject is seen fleeing in a vehicle that dispatchers are able to track utilizing global positioning satellite technology.  This technology is able to scan the vehicle for weapons, including biological weapons.

Dispatchers are able to send images of the suspect and his vehicle to responding officers from all jurisdictions.  Images are viewed by the officers on their 3-D touch screen vehicle window.  Officers position themselves to intercept the vehicle, and on-demand dispatchers are able to disable the vehicle electronically and the vehicle comes to a stop.  The suspect attempts to grab hold of a rifle in the vehicle, but is unable to lift if off of the floor board, (dispatch was able to activate a magnetic field around that suspect’s vehicle to bond the weapon and the floor board).  The subject surrenders peacefully and is taken into custody, another incident resolved using the continuing advances of nanotechnology.

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Nanotechnology History

The era of nanotechnology is here, and with this technology, the world will be able to achieve things beyond the dreams of mortals.  In Future, Inc. (NY: Amacom, 2007), authors Eric Garland and Joseph Coates suggest that that nanotechnology will change our environment in the most fundamental way since the development of tools. The excitement lies in the theoretical possibilities that may one day overturn economies.  In the next decade and a half, policing will become more difficult.  Policing computer and internet crimes is already challenging; adding wireless technology and unlimited bandwidth will only enhance the level of complication these crimes bring.  Policing virtual worlds and virtual crimes will be another level of concern for law enforcement.  Smart weapons and biological weapons will be available on the black market in the future; law enforcement must be prepared to combat such technologies.  Understanding what technologies will be available and how best to use them will be essential. 

Nanotechnologies that will change public safety include: smart weapons, smart body armor, smart patrol vehicles, biosensors, nanorobots, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, 3-D touch display screens, smaller more accurate global positioning systems (GPS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and unmanned ground vehicles.  Each of these technologies will have the capability of providing an endless stream of data back to Communications Centers. 

Currently, law enforcement agencies have multiple T1 lines, which are merely twisted copper telephone lines.  These lines are restricted to 1.544 megabits per second.  Subject matter experts are confident the future will bring gigabits of capacity, a thousand times greater capacity at no additional cost.  Training for the dispatchers will also dramatically be changed; basic dispatch academies must evolve to encompass technological training.  Understanding the data, interpreting it and applying it will be key, since changing circumstances driven by technology will mandate we adapt and creatively explore different ways to fulfill our mission (Policing 2020, 2007).

Nanotechnology is defined as the “processing of, separation, consolidation, and deformation of materials by one atom or one molecule” (Taniguchi, 1974: see reference list at end).  Nano-research seeks to do one of three things (Choi 2004):

·                     The first is to arrange smaller components into more complex assemblies.  This approach is used in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) nanotechnologies.  This is where biology and nanotechnology come together in search of a cure for cancer.   

·                     The second type of research seeks to create smaller devices by using larger ones to direct their assembly.  This research combines electrical and mechanical functionality to possibly detect an accident or even detect chemical substances in the air. 

·                     The last type of nanotechnology research seeks to develop components of a desired functionality without regard for how they might be assembled.  Researchers combine electronic components with synthetic fibers to make things stronger while giving them communications capabilities.

Each of these research models will have a direct effect on law enforcement.  Each will create different types of technologies with their own challenges.   DNA technologies will evolve that will be able to wipe out traces of alcohol or drugs from one’s blood stream. Smart patrol cars could save the lives of thousands of officers killed in car accidents each year.  Technologies such as these are realistic, and will be affordable and obtainable.  

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As law enforcement suffers from diminishing resources and attempts to do more with less, the use of specific technologies will become even more important.  A group of subject matter experts met in October 2009 to discuss nanotechnology and funding.  The group anticipated Federal funding (along with mandates) that would force organizations to change and adapt within a specific period of time.  One expert declared “this technology is not a possibility, it is a necessity” (Anastasios, 2009).  The group identified several trends and events that would enhance technological capabilities in the dispatch center over the next five to ten years.  They felt strongly about unlimited bandwidth, and the technologies that could link the two more seamlessly. The group discussed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Free Space Optical Network Project, which is exploring cheaper, more complex, higher performing optical networks (Chan, 2009).  This project seeks to provide reliable free space coherent optical communication utilizing nanotechnology.  The group focused their efforts on this type of technology paired with data and systems integration for enhancing dispatch communication centers.

Anything that can help law enforcement save time and resources will have a major impact on public safety.  Nanotechnologies like the group of subject matter experts discussed will be amazing tools dispatchers can use to assist officers.  The enhancements of systems integration, data distribution over free optical networks will allow dispatcher’s to collaborate and participate more effectively and efficiently.  The ultimate goal at the end of the day is to send every officer home safely and nanotechnology is the solution. 

Need for Nanotechnology

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a preliminary report released May 10, 2010, there were forty-eight law enforcement officers feloniously killed in the line of duty in the United States in 2009, an increase of 17% over 2008.  The following chart depicts the type of call the officers were responding to.

Forty-five of these officers were killed by firearms.  Thirty-five of the officers killed were wearing body armor.  Nine officers attempted to fire their own weapons, twelve actually did.  Seven had their weapons stolen, and two were killed by their own weapons. 

The largest increase was in the ambush category, a 150% increase over 2008.  This undoubtedly is a frightening trend.  Nanotechnology could be the most promising solution to this problem.  One way to mitigate ambush assaults would include unlimited bandwidth that allows for streaming live video surveillance from vehicles, residences, traffic signals, street lights even fire hydrants.  Large metropolitan cities such as New York City, Chicago, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City as well as several cities in the United Kingdom are being debuted as Surveillance Cities.  The City of Chicago spent over $5.1million in Homeland Security Grant money to purchase over 15,000 cameras (Wall Street Journal, 2009).  The system is real time, and when a citizen makes an emergency call, the system identifies the caller and puts the video feed from the nearest camera on the operator’s main terminal.  Nanotechnology will make this solution a reality for every City in the United States (NGT, 2009). With nanotech, the technology will be smaller, more affordable and seamlessly integrated.

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Another solution could be the various “smart” technologies.  These smart technologies are designed and engineered to be interactive.  These smart materials are engineered to change in a controlled manner, such as temperature, force, moisture, electronic charge, magnetic fields or Ph. Nanotechnology is rapidly entering the world of smart materials and taking them to the next level (Linstedt, 2010).  The future of nanotechnology enabled smart materials may be able to change and combine much like the shifting cyborg in the movie the Terminator 2.  Smart body armor, smart vehicles, smart weapons and smart dust could be deployed in various situations for safety measures. 

Lastly, nanotechnology is engineering smaller more powerful biosensors and (RFID) tags (Halal, 2008).  These sensors will be able to monitor location, stress, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, the need for food and water as well as several other critical indicators (Halal, 2008).  At any given time, the location of all known felons, sexual predators, and the mentally ill will be known.  This information will stream live into the Communications Center.  All agencies will be expected to have the capability to receive and respond appropriately to this data.  Federal funding and mandates will be developed over the next ten years dealing with this technology. 

Creating the Partnership

The expert panel (NGT 2009) described a successful dispatcher as one who understands technology, is flexible and adapts well to changes in their environment.  Dispatchers are multi-faceted creatures who operate uncountable electronic devices.  Give them nanotechnology, along with some information technology training and you have a law enforcement partner for life.  Academies will be required by the mandates the group of subject matter experts discussed to adapt their training programs for officers and dispatchers to include an understanding of nanotechnology.  

Dispatchers already have a strong relationship with the technology that surrounds them.  In the age of computer aided dispatch systems, enhanced 911, global positioning satellite (gps) technology and in-car computers, dispatchers are surrounded by tools to help them do their job successfully.  As the next generation of technology evolves, it presents an opportunity to change this dispatcher officer relationship.  Cities such as Chicago rely on smart software to assist their dispatchers, giving them only the live feed that is necessary, but allowing review anytime for evidentiary purposes.  The Chicago system is designed to deal with emergencies as they happen. 

Lee Miller, CEO of Andrews Software Inc., notes to “Embrace change or get out of the way” (Andrews, 2005).  He suggests we are in the middle of a trend that will force us to relearn basic human communication.  Translate that trend for law enforcement, and you have technology on one side, and the next generation law enforcement professional on the other.  The next generation is definitely embracing technology, integrating it into their daily lives at a faster rate than ever (Gonsalves, 2006).  Lee points out relearning new and improved ways to communicate will be key to the success of technology and human relationships.  Various technological devices such as the television, hand phone, personal computers, internet, email, video conferencing and mobile phones have impacted interpersonal communications.  Many of these devices are fast, free and convenient.  They make it easier for people to communicate and keep in touch. When it comes down to it, that is the essence of the dispatch job. Nanotech and related technologies will make it just that much easier.      

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To improve the function and operation of the Communications Center using nanotechnology makes future possibilities endless.  There will be nanotechnology available for prevention, apprehension and investigative purposes.  Imagine new technological tools we could learn and apply to keep police officers safer at the touch of a button.  Imagine if every criminal, no matter how violent or heinous, could be captured safely. 

If criminals continue to utilize the next best technology, then law enforcement will be forced to not only embrace it, but also be at the forefront of utilizing nanotechnologies.  The future police department will be a collaboration of nanotechnologies with the next generation police professional.  This will enhance and elevate the relationships between dispatchers and officers to achieve the ultimate goal of increased community safety, officer safety and rapid criminal apprehensions.   

Nanotechnology will be affordable and available to law enforcement agencies across the nation.  According to Christine Peterson of the Foresight Institute nanotechnology medicine will be dirt cheap, very affordable.  Several other experts have used the word affordable in conjunction with biofuels, fuel cells, solar power, and clean water along with several other nanotechnologies.  While nanotechnology lacks an actual price tag, it is built on the premise of making consumer goods more plentiful, cheaper and stronger. 

The World Futures Society forecasts that, in the next five to ten years, there will be powerful computers that will be small enough to fold or fit in your wallet, smart building will exist that can stabilize in an earthquake or building (2009).  In ten to fifteen years they anticipate artificial intelligence so advanced you won’t know if you are talking to a human or a machine, virtual reality will be fully integrated into real life and everything we say and do will be recorded.  Partner these technologies with their prediction that the millennial generation will have major impacts on society and college majors preparing them are becoming more specialized.  According to Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to the change” (1859).  The Communications Center will be at the heart of this change.

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Kari Mendoza is the Support Services Director for the City of  Beaumont (CA) Police Department.  This article was written in July 2010 for Command College Class 47 and published exclusively by


 The Command College Futures Study Project is a FUTURES study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is NOT to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for strategic planning in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.  This article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Defining the future differs from analyzing the past, because it has not yet happened. In this article, methodologies have been used to discern useful alternatives to enhance the success of planners and leaders in their response to a range of possible future environments.

Managing the future means influencing it—creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.

The views and conclusions expressed in the Command College Futures Project and journal article are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the CA Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).



Anastasios, A., Hall, S., Hatfield, S., Melanson, D., Urtiaga, E. Williams, D. (2010) Nominal Group Technique.  Group Interview, Subject Matter Experts. October 14th, 2009.   

Bulkeley, W. (2009). Chicago’s Camera System is Everywhere.  Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved from

Chan, V. (2009).  Free Space Optical Networks.  Retrieved from

Choi, D., Kumta, P.N., Lee, D.H., Narayan, R.J., Sfeir, C. (2004).  Nanostructured Ceramics in Medical Devices:  Applications and Prospects.  Boston:  Springer Boston.

Darwin, C.  (1859).  Theory of Evolution.  Retrieved from  

Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Law Enforcement Officers Killed or Assaulted,” killed.html

Garland, E. (2007). Future, Inc. New York: AMACOM.

Gonsalves, A. (2006). Information Week: Gen Y Taking Technology to New Level.  Retrieved from

Halal, W. E. (2008). Technology’s Promise.  New York:  Palgrave Macmillan.

Linstedt, D. (2010). RFID Tracking and Nanotechnology for BI.  Retrieved from               

Miller, L. (2005). Technology vs. Relationships.  From

NGT Panel (2009). Personal interview, October 15, 2009. Beaumont, CA

Peterson, C. (2007).  The Foresight Institute: Will Nanotechnology Medicine be Affordable?

                Retrieved from  

Schafer, J.A. (2007). Policing 2020:  Exploring the Future of Crime, Communities and Policing.

                Retrieved from

Taniguchi, N. (1974).  On the Basic Concept of ‘Nano-Technology.’  Tokyo:  Japan Society of

                Precision Engineering.


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