A drone zips through the air at up to 35 miles an hour, sounding a bit like a lawn trimmer, far above the Volunteer State Community College campus. Criminal Justice director, Kevin Cook, is giving students a hands-on example of how the technology could be used by the good guys and the bad guys.
“You could fly this over a correctional facility and deliver a gun to an inmate. You could use it for drug trafficking,” Cook tells the students. His point is that unless law officers know what can be done with new technology, it could be used to commit crimes in new ways without them knowing.
Technology is changing the way we all work. That’s especially true in the criminal justice field. And it’s not just a matter of understanding and using new technology in law enforcement, but also comprehending the legal implications. Vol State has a new class in its popular Criminal Justice program that focuses on technology. It’s called Criminal Justice Technology and Information Systems. The college has purchased drones, officially known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). These new tools contain many high tech features that are changing the face of law enforcement. There are also controversial technology issues for students to consider that have been at the forefront of the news recently: police body and squad car cameras.
“Think about what officers carry these days: body cameras with GPS and microphones, nonlethal weapons, PDA’s (personal digital assistants) and iPads,” Cook said. “Instead of using notepads to record information only to bring it back to the station to be rewritten or typed, officers are actually doing the reports while interviewing the complainants or citizens on the job. They need to have an understanding of the case law to better understand the implications when they are using this technology.”
As students take turns operating the drone, they consider what new technology will mean for them. “It’s pretty fascinating,” said Lauren McDaniel of Hendersonville as she watches the drone buzz overhead. “It shows you how technology has taken off in the last few years. I’m not very tech savvy, so I need to keep up with the technology and how to use it.”
The drone has a video camera that shows live pictures and can travel up to one and a half miles from the operator. Cook says one scenario the new class will feature is search and rescue. “We’ll have a role player act as a missing child and we’ll use a clothing description to find them with the drone.”
“It’s a great tool when it comes to search and rescue,” Jesse Versage of Hendersonville said. “Using this technology is exposing us to what is being used now and what may be used in the future.”
“They already have licenses plate readers that automatically search for wanted plates when a car is cruising on the highway. The have a system called ShotSpotter that detects gunfire and collects data to help law enforcement and communities. They developed vehicle pursuit darts that could be fired from a police vehicle during a chase. It attaches a GPS unit to the car, that it can be safely tracked with endangering the public.”
The Vol State Criminal Justice program has several different degree options, including an associate of science degree that can transfer to a university program and an associate of applied science degree designed for entry into the workplace. Vol State graduates work across Middle Tennessee in positions such as police officer, corrections officer, dispatcher, and probation/parole officer. Vol State classes start on January 19 for the spring semester. New students can apply now. For more information visit www.volstate.edu/criminaljustice
Pictured: Criminal Justice Director, Kevin Cook, shows his Vol State students how law enforcement is using drones for actions such as search and rescue, evidence photography, and tracking prisoner escapes.