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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Us, Them and Shaping our Problem-Solving

Lately, I’ve been attracted to the notion of group identity as a way of structuring problems.  The logic lies in social evolution and the expectation that groups that exhibit collaborative behaviors should have an advantage over groups lacking that behavior.  Over tens of thousands of years of prehistoric human society, these groups came to dominate.  But, collaboration with the wrong people can be costly and, particularly in times of stress like war or famine, may create a threat to survival.  In order for collaboration to provide an advantage, the boundary between those with whom we will collaborate and those we will not must be clear.   

Identities matter.  How we identify ourselves and others defines how we will relate to one another.  Is she like me?  If so, I can expect that cooperation will work out.  If not, I will need to be more wary. Determining whether someone is part of “my” group or someone else’s group is a fundamental human behavior.  Scientists distinguish between “in-groups” and “out-groups.”  Group identities give meaning to the words we, us, they and them.

We treat members of in-groups and out-groups differently.  I will cooperate freely with members of my in-group.   With out-groups, I will either ignore them or I will be vigilant for threats. 

However, in-groups are not free of risks; I might not be treated fairly.  I might have to carry the load of freeloaders or cheats might take too much of the rewards, leaving me with a smaller share.  I will have to keep an eye on the other members of my in-group.  But, they will all be watching me too.  So, I will have to demonstrate my loyalty to the group by adhering visibly to group norms.  Social scientists call this social control.

This brings me to a critical point. The boundaries of fundamental in-group identifications are not static.  The in-group that matters NOW! depends on what’s going on around me.  How context is framed influences how I navigate my identities.  

We can imagine that small societies have a small number of potential groups.  Think about a primitive hunter-gatherer tribe in a remote jungle.  The people as a whole will be one group.  The elders might be another.  It is very likely that labor will be divided by gender, so we should expect that men and women might be separate groups.  Children are probably yet another group.  Immediate families probably form another group.  Every person in that society would have at least four potential identities: family, child/adult, gender, and “the people.”

In a more complex society, we should expect new identities to enter play: specialty (such as trade or profession), political faction, sports, hobbies, race or ethnicity, region, religion, etcetera.  People in more complex societies will have larger inventories of in-group identities. 

I am a member of numerous in-groups.  Relatively speaking, I may be in-group wealthy.  I have the in-groups of my department, my rank, my profession, PFI, the Futures Working Group, my academic field, my university, professional futurists, etc.  I am a fan of my home town sports teams.  I can jump from in-group to in-group easily. 

Framing provides an opportunity for leverage. When faced with an issue or conflict, how we frame it can influence how other people process it.  Framing can be used to unite people, or to divide them.  Framing signals which group identity should be salient at the present.   

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Americans across the country watched planes crash and buildings burn and fall.  On that day and for some time after, the most salient group identity for most people in the US was “American.”

The dynamics of group identity impact the practice of policing.  It does so within our organizations and it impacts how police officers relate to the public.  It also impacts how members of the public relate to one another.  Consider:

  • How many group identities run in your organization?  Do you have distinctions between supervisors and officers? sworn and civilians? crime-fighters and slugs?
  •  How do group identities impact your officers’ relations with the public?  Do your officers have a strong “us vs. them” perspective?  Does the public see the police as outsiders?  How quickly do officers classify people as criminal?  Is it permanent? 
  • Are there strong group identities activating conflict among members of the public?  Are gangs evidence of an in-group poverty?  Do people who join gangs possess too few in-groups?  Are antiquated gender group identities driving domestic conflicts? 

It may not always be possible to control which group identities are active when police become involved in a situation.  But, the police can use the insight of group identities to manage these situations better.  By framing issues strategically, we can improve outcomes for all.   

For example, it is tempting to fall into “cops and robbers” thinking where the police stand in opposition to the perpetrators of crime.  This frame reinforces police group identity as an instrument of force.  But other group identities, such as race or ethnicity, may become activated on behalf of the perpetrator, shifting public support away from the police.  If in its communications, the police define the conflict as victim versus offender, group identities are activated differently.  The public aligns with the victim and the police identity remains part of the public, and to the extent there is distinction, takes on the character of rescuer.

We can use this group identity perspective for creative problem solving.  When we are faced with a problem, we can change our perception of the problem by viewing it from different in-group perspectives.  We can also test our solutions through various group lenses.  It’s a good idea to capture all the stakeholders, each of which is a group, and look at the problems and solutions from each perspective.

Understanding how identities work, within ourselves and in others, will make police more effective in the future.

Drones – Friends or Foes?

By Tony Hallett, CEO, Unmanned Response


American law enforcement is front and center in the heated national debate on privacy and drone warfare. There are formidable stakeholders with deep-rooted motivations on all sides of these emotional issues. Most police officers follow the headlines with casual interest, unaware that the outcome of these deliberations will have a dramatic impact on their profession in both the near- and long-term.

Technology improves quality of life, increases productivity, and sustains a safe homeland. The Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1840) introduced machines. The Digital Revolution (1960s – early 21st century) introduced software. Today, the nascent Robotics Revolution has introduced sophisticated unmanned systems, commonly referred to as drones. These remarkable machines are deployed on land (unmanned ground vehicles, or UGV), in the air (unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAV), and on/under water (unmanned maritime vehicles, or UMV).

 Drones come in all shapes and sizes. Costs range from $100 to $100,000,000+. The robotics industry experienced astonishing growth through the U.S. military investment in combat drones during the War on Terror. As a result, the market matured rapidly between 2002 and 2012. Drones will continue to evolve through nanotechnology and advanced materials science, leading to even greater specialization and lower prices.

 As military drone inventories reached optimal levels, manufacturers began looking for new markets. Domestically, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits unmanned commercial flights until UAVs are safely integrated into the National Airspace System. That won’t happen until at least late 2015. Exceptions were granted to public safety agencies on the basis that some military applications could be useful to first responders.

 Before law enforcement could fully explore potential uses, two camps of opposition surfaced – those opposed to the use of armed drones in warfare and those concerned drones will compromise privacy. Overnight, the 800,000 police officers in the U.S., most of whom have never seen or even contemplated drones, were being castigated in the media for wanting to use UAVs to spy on and shoot Americans.

 A frenzied response in several jurisdictions led to far-reaching restrictions or prohibitions on drone use by law enforcement. While some drone legislation is reasonable, such as updates of existing privacy laws, most focuses on restricting police use. Little or no attention is given to vandals, criminals, and terrorists. Interestingly, most of this legislation does not mention unmanned ground or maritime vehicles.

 Is this a privacy issue, or is this just a privacy-from-police issue? Law enforcement officers indeed conduct surveillance of people and groups suspected of criminal activity. However, low-cost drones will appeal to people who secretly peruse their spouse’s cell phone, voyeurs who peep through bedroom windows, and paparazzi that crash celebrity weddings, all a far greater privacy threat than police.

 Is this a weapons-control issue, or is this just a police-weapons-control issue? Police officers occasionally must use lethal force. However, weaponized drones will appeal to psychotics, violent criminals, and international terrorists, all a far greater physical threat than police.

 The long-term implications are unnerving. Technology is broadly adopted long before security or misuse is contemplated. Computer technology was adopted by business and academia long before most police departments even owned a PC. The emergence of computer crime caught police agencies off guard. Digital forensics wasn’t a widely recognized criminal investigation discipline until after 2002.

 Cybercrime would not be the top security threat facing America today if computer technology had been adopted as an essential law enforcement tool and recognized as a dangerous instrument of crime early in the Digital Revolution. By recognizing drones can be a valued friend and a formidable opponent, law enforcement can avoid underestimating the long-term consequences. But does it want to? Will it be able to?

 Extensive integration of drones into police operations is not on the horizon. Can a police chief commit money and manpower to a drone program when politicians, at any time, impose new restrictions or even ban them completely? Conversely, police agencies are not prepared for the inevitable onslaught of drone crime. The bad guys are already equipping and deploying drones. Imagine a street cop’s reaction when a citizen reports being robbed by an “armed, talking UFO.”

 Law enforcement must get out in front of drone technology or it will be used against society with unimaginable consequences.  

 The International Associations of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) have provided early leadership in creating public awareness and the integration of robotic technology into public safety agencies. They could use some help. Some good starting points include: “IACP Seeks to Sway Public on Unmanned Aircraft” (, 09apr13); “A Vision of Crimes in the Future” (Marc Goodman, TEDGlobal, June, 2012); “Armed Drones Could Be Protected By the Second Amendment” (Jason Koebler, US News & World Report, 21may13); and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) website.


Improving the Handling of Calls for Service

Since at least the 1930s law enforcement’s standard method for handling calls for service has been a linear method in which an informant calls a dispatcher who then listens to the informant and makes a decision on the nature of the call and who best to handle it before assigning it to a deployed patrol unit who then drives to the location verifies the information and takes appropriate action.

 Given the ubiquitous nature and advanced capabilities of modern smart phones, portable computers, WiFi, video capture and transmission and the like, how could the law enforcement community exploit these technologies and increase the effectiveness and efficiency for calls for service?

Sid Heal

The Federal Grant Machine