One of the things that we try to do with our Science Fiction Today posts is to explore modern problems by not really looking at the current problem – but instead at what it might look like in the future. And lately, the police have been making the news a lot.
Okay, mostly it’s Ferguson. But Ferguson reminds us of all of the stories that haven’t caught as much news, of similar situations. It’s also spawned a story like this one from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight:
Between public opinion, and technological changes and access, I feel like we’re reaching a critical mass. So what might the future look like, when it comes to police? There’s actually a lot of thought on this, as so much of TV and movies has to do with the police, and law and order – and some of it is science fiction. Police Procedurals remain popular, and we explore the idea of the police all the way from the real – in a show like Cops – to the distantly fictional – like Almost Human.
And this is a subject I really don’t want to approach any other way. Every community has different problems, different police forces and personalities, different crimes being dealt with, different racial, cultural, economic conflicts and existence… So in relation to the police, what can our future look like?
The Good – Well-prepared Cops
A lot of the good situations for cops – I suppose now and in the future – has to do with them being well-prepared and well equipped for the situation. A lot of the time, this has to do with robots or cyborg cops. Having the equipment, the tools and technology at hand that they need.
I think that’s part of what made the show Almost Human so interesting. Yes, there’re robots that are cops – half the force. However, it’s what they could do (especially Dorian) that was so great:
- Feats of inhuman strength – climbing, fighting. The robot standard.
- A megaphone and siren – Dorian could just amplify and make sounds as needed to take control of a situation.
- Facial recognition and police database – he had their technological tools available for immediate access.
- Mobile crime lab – he could analyze the forensic evidence they found at the scene of the crime.
It was this last that seemed most useful – you see other, more modern shows where the forensics always have to wait, always take time, are put on a waiting list. Being able to analyze and have answers about these things before ever leaving the crime scene is amazing!
Or take a movie, Minority Report. Okay, for one thing there’s the whole idea of Pre-Crime. The ability to tell in advance that someone is going to commit a crime, and stop it. In many ways, this moves away from a “Justice” system – it’s a peace-keeping system. Similar, but not identical. The police fulfill both roles, I suppose!
However, I also liked some of the technology ideas in that movie – things the police had. Yes, there’s the projected keyboards and touch-screen floating monitors that seem to have become a staple of near-scifi Hollywood. But I liked the “sick-sticks” they had, for non-lethal takedowns – or their sonic shotguns, which could incapacitate without killing. Good tools for a peace-keeping.
So many of these tools are designed for an work best in the hands of the police – not necessarily serving a useful purpose in another arena.
The Bad – Hand-Me-Downs
I think back to the video from Last Week Tonight… the police getting hand-me-down military equipment. Not equipment made for police purposes, not made for peace-keeping or for forensic duties.
These things are made for war.
And yes, it’s probably good to have that level of armor. I like that idea. But the tanks? Assault rifles? Perhaps unnecessary in every community. Certainly in mine.
But okay, the future. We picture all of these great advancements – inventions for the use of police, amazing in their hands. But inventing, designing, and producing these sorts of technologies? That would take a lot of investment in time and money. Where does that investment tend to happen?
Yeah, more frequently for war.
So it would make more sense for the police to end up more and more like a military – even just as military-funded technologies trickle out into broader markets, as tends to happen. Right? You usually hear that argument. And, while accurate perhaps, it also means police rolling down the street in tanks.
If that’s the future, Ferguson will not be alone, I wouldn’t imagine.