America's police have an image problem.
As kids, many of us are introduced to Officer Friendly, and we're taught that police are forces for good. But as we get older, we read headlines about racial profiling, we see officers set up speed traps, we hear about entire departments outsourcing traffic tickets to third-party camera operators, and we begin to question what we've learned.
You could argue that our views on the police began to shift sometime in the 1950s and 60s, when broadcasts of Andy Griffith were followed by newscasts showing officers violently shutting down protests in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Mistrust of the police bubbled over again a couple of months ago in Ferguson, Missouri, when a tragic shooting followed by the police department's clumsy, ill-thought-out response launched weeks of riots that continue to this day.
Ford makes a lot of police cars. And on newer versions of those cars, the automaker hopes that police departments will opt to include software it's developed to keep tabs on where officers travel, how fast they drive, and even whether they're wearing their seatbelts.
The software is called Ford Telematics for Law Enforcement, and it was co-developed with Telogis. An extension of Ford's existing telematics offerings, it's set to debut on the company's Police Interceptor vehicles.
While Ford Telematics for Law Enforcement is intended to create a degree of transparency and improve public trust, that's not its only objective. It's also designed to improve fleet management: as with any other company, Ford feels that police departments ought to know how their employees behave behind the wheel and institute changes to improve that behavior. That's good for business, and it can save lives, too: between 2004 and 2013, and average of 64 U.S. police officers were killed each year in traffic accidents.
According to Ford's Bill Frykman, "Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of officer fatalities, and even the slightest improvements in driver training and behavior within law enforcement organizations can potentially save lives. Whether in emergency operation or not, vehicle data from this technology, in context with different driving situations will help illustrate to police organizations where changes can be made that will have a profound effect on officer safety."
Will departments choose to make use of this technology? Will officers push back against new oversight? Will any of this improve the public's trust of police departments? Stay tuned.