#CyberFLASH: Surveillance and predictive policing: Welcome to the ‘safety state’ of tomorrow

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Try to imagine what policing will look like in the future. Microwave heat cannons and sound bazookas dispersing rowdy crowds? Robocops patrolling the streets while whirring drones keep watch from the sky?

Or maybe we’ll arrive at a world where all crime is wiped away, where people peacefully coexist in sleeper pods while life is played out through virtual reality helmets.

Maybe.

The more realistic picture, according to police technology experts, is that surveillance and the collection and analysis of information will play a central role in solving and preventing crime.

The public safety regime of tomorrow, in other words, is all about data. “This is the future of policing,” says Christopher Schneider, an associate professor of sociology at Brandon University in Manitoba.

Cops in the coming decades will gather information online, interact with the public through social media and even use data gleaned from the Internet and past crimes to predict and prevent future law-breaking, Schneider says. This is already happening, to varying degrees, in American cities and places such as Vancouver and Toronto, where police used a program to comb through Twitter to gather evidence for a recent online harassment trial.

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