In 2021, the US Marshals recaptured more than 84,000 fugitives. While that is an astounding figure and a credit to the US Marshal Service (USMS), one can imagine the sheer number of fugitives across the world when so many are recaptured in just one country. With everything that is going on in the current climate, law enforcement officials around the world have enough on their plate already. The added responsibility of re-catching those who are sly enough to escape high-security penitentiaries simply adds to the strain police officers are under. So, how does a country solve its fugitive crisis? The answer, as ever, can be found in the future. Or, in other words, a true manifestation of the future—smart cities.
Smart cities are the epitome of technology, connectivity and innovation. Technologies such as AI, computer vision, blockchain and IoT are readily used in smart cities for various administrative and welfare functions. So, one can certainly expect that they can be employed by the police in cities like London, Manchester, Madrid and other smart cities to track down missing felons. In particular, Augmented Reality (AR), combined with other smart city tech such as AI, computer vision and VR, can come in handy for the purpose. Here are some ways in which law enforcement officials everywhere can employ AR in smart city policing for recapturing fugitives:
Real-Time Identification and Tracking
As implied earlier, felons, especially the ones who escape from prisons, are extremely clever and duplicitous in nature. Once they are away from the law’s clutches, they possess the know-how to blend into crowds and their surroundings. Throughout history, there have been many instances in which fugitives have not only changed their names and appearances after breaking out of jail, but also found refuge in another country—Shawshank Redemption-style—several miles away from where they are supposed to be. Furthermore, such people may also find ways to rid themselves of their GPS-enabled ankle bracelets to dive out of the police’s radar completely.
In such cases, identifying and recapturing fugitives becomes a long, tiresome and, ultimately, futile exercise for weary cops. This is where AR-based smart city policing can enter and save the day. As you know, prison records contain every little detail about convicted inmates, from blood group data to voice recordings to fingerprints. So, police officers can revisit all the places wherein a fugitive may have possibly been after breaking out. In such places, using AR-based thermal imaging glasses, police officers can identify and match fingerprints (in light or dark shades depending on how recent the print is) to get on the trail of their target. This is one of the ways in which AR enables fugitive identification and tracking.
Another way is to provide detectives with the ability to find audio recordings and identify the voice of a speaker (as it cannot be disguised) and match that against the CCTV footage to know exactly where a fugitive was when the audio was recorded and, by extension, where they can be within a certain amount of time.
And finally, after audio and fingerprint identification and tracking, comes facial identification. Police officers in China use AR-based glasses to catch suspects. This “smart eyewear” uses computer vision to scan the faces of people encountered by cops. The glasses, powered by computer vision and AI, then run facial recognition to find accurate matches in a fugitive database. So, what role does AR play in this instance of smart city policing? Quite simply, AR dynamically shows a police officer wearing the glasses whether a match has been found between any given person on the street and a wanted fugitive in the jail records. This, coupled with the approximately 170 million CCTV cameras installed throughout China, makes it nearly impossible for fugitives to stay out of jail for too long.
Fugitive Detection in Large Crowds
Detecting a seemingly innocuous, well-disguised fugitive walking down the street is difficult enough. So, imagine the complexity involved when a fugitive needs to be tracked down from a distance amidst a sea of people. For example, a fugitive terrorist blending in perfectly with a large mass of human beings in an open concert or a public rally. Furthermore, what if such a person may also be carrying explosives or a stolen pistol to wreak havoc and kill as many “free” people (and possibly themselves) as possible before going back to prison. AR can optimize smart city policing in such instances too.
An AR-based tool can amalgamate with computer vision applications to track such individuals, even from a great distance. So, a police officer wearing an AR-powered headset or spectacles can see arrows or circling symbols over their target in a large crowd standing about 500 meters away from them. Using this information, several police officers can sneak in on the fugitive and nab them before they can carry out a nasty attack on the innocent, unsuspecting people surrounding them.
Both these use cases highlight how police officers can use AR in smart city policing to catch, more or less, static targets. However, what happens when the target is relentlessly on the move?
Efficient Execution of High-Speed Pursuit Operations
Arguably, this is the area of smart city policing in which AR makes the biggest impact. High-speed pursuits are more complicated than many may know. For one, the fugitive is difficult to pin down, meaning that the cops in pursuit may find it slightly more challenging to get back up to round the criminal. Here, AR can help cops in multiple ways. The first of them is the AR-enabled Heads-Up Display (HUD). Such a display puts information that would normally occupy a vehicle’s dashboard-embedded infotainment system on the windshield of a pursuing patrol car. Having information such as directions to be taken and fuel tank data right in the eye line of cops helps them to drive whilst focusing on the road ahead and nothing else. What’s more, this feature actively shows the pursuing cops how close or far away they are from their target, making it easier for them to call in help on the fly. Once multiple cop cars join in a pursuit operation, the fugitive’s days outside of jail will be numbered as each separate vehicle can eliminate every escape lane available for the fleeing criminals.
Apart from the HUD, smart city policing can also consist of AR-based wing mirrors and rear-view mirrors in patrol cars. Such tools, again, help police with nabbing criminals by simply gauging how much distance there is between them and on-the-run fugitives.
In this way, AR is one of the most potent tools to nab fugitives fleeing on vehicles.
This application is all about neutralizing the criminals who have not only escaped jail but also got their hands on life-threatening weapons. Fugitives on the run often have very little to lose, which makes them even more dangerous to deal with for cops looking to bring them back in. Often, encounters between the two may end up with either the fugitive or the cops losing their lives in a violent shootout. What’s worse, many police officers may die accidentally from their own colleague’s bullets amidst the mayhem. These are classified as friendly-firing deaths.
To prevent instances of friendly-firing deaths, cops can wear AR-powered glasses that mark them in different colors to the fugitives, making it easier for them to identify who is a friend and who could be their nemesis. This application is particularly useful for carrying out operations in the dark or in poorly-lit places. Unfortunately, several officers die every year due to friendly fires. The use of AR enables smart city policing to avoid such tragedies very effectively.
As you can see, only smart cities offer many of the otherworldly tech used to nab fugitives. So, while AR is important for the purpose, it also needs the company of other technologies to achieve peak smart city policing. Having said that, AR will undoubtedly add new dimensions to law enforcement once smart cities become ubiquitous enough in the future.