Boston Police cruiser (flickr)
Contract negotiations between the Boston Police union and the city has resulted in an interesting development: The pending use of GPS tracking devices on police vehicles. The decision has sparked a heated debate, with officers worrying that the move will inhibit their ability to police the streets and supervisors arguing that it will improve safety and response times, according to the Boston Globe.

Proponents of the system have argued that its implementation will lead to a reduction in crime, as well as improvements in police officer safety. Using the system would mean that the police could respond to crimes much more quickly, since dispatchers wouldn't have to wait for troopers to radio in with location details. And if a trooper found themselves in a dangerous situation, they say, the GPS devices would make it much easier for supporting officers to pinpoint their location, resulting in a faster and more effective response from supporting officers.

Detractors have maintained, however, that using the GPS devices will negatively impact the officers' ability to do their day-to-day jobs of policing the city's streets.

"No one likes it. Who wants to be followed all over the place?" an anonymous officer told the Boston Globe. "If I take my cruiser and I meet [reluctant witnesses] to talk, eventually they can follow me and say why were you in a back dark street for 45 minutes? It's going to open up a can of worms that can't be closed."

Another issue raised by opponents is that of hacking. Officers have voiced concern regarding tech-savvy individuals manipulating the system to find out where the cops are located before committing crimes.

Civil liberties proponents are already having a field day with the development, according to Ars Technica.

"The irony of police objecting to GPS technology for privacy reasons is hard to miss in the aftermath of United States v. Jones," said Woodrow Hartzog, a law professor at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. United Staes vs. Jones was a Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled it unconstitutional for police to place GPS tracking devices on cars without obtaining a warrant.

The GPS devices still need city council approval in Boston, but it appears we may be getting closer to an answer for that that age-old question: Who watches the watchers?


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