Photo collage showing someone pointing to the words "2024 trends" emanating from his laptop; a circle with "AI"; a police officer using the Flock Safety system; an illustration of a "connected" city; and a guy using a cell phone that's surrounded by graphic depictions of all its apps

"As 2024 unfolds, here are our tech experts' top 5 'game-changing' innovations for law enforcement"Happy (Tech-Savvy) New Year




By Jody Garlock

Each second felt like an eternity as Eddie Bertola stared at the blank screen in front of him. While composing an AMBER Alert for the California Highway Patrol, then-Sergeant Bertola was all too aware that a child’s life depended on him getting the procedure right. That’s why he dedicated himself to learning everything he could about alerting technology—and became very good at his job.

We recently caught up with Bertola, and fellow AMBER Alert Training & Technical Assistance Program (AATTAP) Associate Instructor Tony Godwin, to find out what new or emerging technological tools are on their radars for 2024—and think they should be on yours too.

Image reads: "Scroll down for even more tech advances!While Eddie Bertola and Tony Godwin have taken different paths in law enforcement, both nationally respected professionals embrace the significant role that technology plays in helping prevent, and find, missing and exploited children.

After 15 years with the California Highway Patrol, Bertola now serves as an Associate with the National Criminal Justice Training Center (NCJTC) and AATTAP, helping train law enforcement to use the latest technological tools and resources to operate better and faster. He’s also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to test new software that can generate exacting emergency messages with just a few clicks.

NCJTC-AATTAP Associate Godwin is a veteran detective with the Garland Police Department in Texas, and a member of the North Texas Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. He remembers when “high tech” meant the ability to send emails. Now he’s a certified cellphone and computer forensics examiner who investigates child exploitation and other crimes against children that occur in areas where young people may be lured into a false sense of safety, such as a gaming app’s chat room. The combined knowledge of Godwin and Bertola is invaluable for law enforcement trainees.

Polaroid-style photo of Eddie Bertola1) Message Design Dashboard: Building a better WEA

New message-writing software is in development that will allow for more effective Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs)—not only to spur the public into action, but also to lessen the pressure on officials tasked with writing and disseminating the alerts.

The Message Design Dashboard, developed by the Center for Technology in Government at the University at Albany in New York, creates a common structure so that alerting authorities can compile consistent messaging via easy-to-use dropdown menus and prompts.

The Dashboard stems from a FEMA-funded project to support the agency’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which powers and authenticates the nation’s emergency alerts. The Dashboard project used research to develop the software, which factored in social science to form clear, actionable messaging.

Display text reads: "It's very new, very needed, and it’s going to have a really big impact,” says Bertola, who’s been involved in the Message Design Dashboard’s beta testing. “Message creation will be a lot faster—and empowering for the public that receives the alert.”The software should be ready for use with AMBER Alert messaging in early 2024 says Jeannette Sutton, a University at Albany professor who heads the project and specializes in disaster and risk. Bertola and Sutton emphasize the ease of using the Dashboard, where users can click desired descriptors from dropdown menus. As answers are selected, the message is automatically built in a preview box at the side of the screen, with all content remaining editable. “We believe a common structure will improve messaging and get people to follow a consistent set of information and style of writing,” Sutton says.

The software tracks the character count, building a 90-character message that IPAWS requires, along with a 360-character message that most of today’s devices can receive. Hyperlinks are also checked to ensure they don’t go to an invalid page, which can erode public trust in the process.

2) Flock Safety: Real-time vehicle intelligence

Photo of Flock Safety vehicle monitorPhoto of Flock Safety software on computer screenOne product that’s making a marked difference in how police officers do their jobs is Flock Safety, a system with high-quality cameras, video, and other technology (shown at right) that reads license plates in order to provide real-time actionable intelligence.

“It’s been the biggest game-changer for us,” Godwin says. “It’s really altered how we work in law enforcement.”

Thirty years ago, the process of running tags and finding a vehicle was “almost like trying to catch a unicorn,” he says. With Flock Safety, officers receive alerts when a wanted vehicle passes by a camera. The notifications give the reason for the alert, date/time, and which camera the vehicle drove past. The alert also sends a picture of the vehicle, the license plate, and a map location.

In September 2023, Flock Safety equipment helped Elizabethtown, Kentucky, police safely recover a toddler caught up in a carjacking.

“Of all the years I’ve been doing this, I can’t think of … a more game-changing piece of technology for law enforcement,” said Elizabethtown Police Chief Jeremy Thompson when asking the city council for more Flock cameras to be added to the system installed six months earlier. “I’ve heard council members say that if we recover one kidnapped child, it was worth it. And in my opinion, no truer words have been spoken.”

Flock gathers only open source data, such as car tag information. The cameras read license plates only; they don’t identify motorists (there’s no facial recognition) or record speeds. The system, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, sends an alert to law enforcement only if the vehicle has been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, such as if it’s a stolen vehicle or wanted in connection with an AMBER Alert, or if an officer has entered it as a follow-up on an investigation. Data collected is deleted after 30 days.

At $2,500 per camera per year, the system is decidedly an investment. But if such a cost is prohibitive, Godwin says traditional license plate recognition (LPR) technology is still beneficial.

Screengrab from Ring doorbell: In 2022, a Ring doorbell camera documented the attempted abduction of a 6-year-old Ohio girl who was taking out the family’s trash. A man grabbed her and started dragging her down the sidewalk, but released her due to her screams. The video helped authorities apprehend the abductor.
In 2022, a Ring doorbell camera documented the attempted abduction of a 6-year-old Ohio girl who was taking out the family’s trash. A man grabbed her and started dragging her down the sidewalk but released her due to her screams. The video helped authorities apprehend the abductor.

3) Doorbell cameras: Public-engaging technology

Crime-fighting technology is branching beyond expensive equipment in patrol cars and computers in the office. Everyday consumer technology, such as doorbell cameras available for as little as $60, has emerged as a valuable resource to help law enforcement piece together investigations and prosecute cases.

“The growing public engagement in this area is one of the things I’m most excited about,” Bertola says.

He expects a continued increase in the public’s proactive sharing of video from doorbell, security, car dashboard, and cellphone cameras when they think it may help—rather than officers having to knock on doors and ask for the information.

“This type of rapid exchange of information is huge,” Bertola says. “Law enforcement seems to be starting to focus on harnessing that.” Some agencies have begun mapping subdivisions and other areas to note places with doorbell or other security cameras.

“Doing little things like that is going to help with trust in the community,” he says. “And as the community sees this, they’re going to become even more willing to share and become a partner.”

Graphic showing iceberg depicting Open Source Intelligence--what is most visible and, beneath the ice, all the murkiness of the deep, dark web4) Open Source Intelligence: Digging deep for answers

“Any investigation into a child’s disappearance should include Open Source Intelligence (OSINT),” Godwin says. He considers it “one of the most crucial law enforcement techniques in the digital world.”

OSINT is an umbrella term for collecting and analyzing data from publicly available sources, much of it via the Internet, for intelligence purposes. Its origins date to World War II, when William Donovan began using it for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“It’s an important tool as we are looking into investigations, especially reactive ones where we don’t know much about our person,” Godwin says.

Screengrab of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) research site recommended by AATTAP tech expert Tony Godwin
Godwin suggests investigators use the multiple layers of research tools available at

Most crimes today leave digital traces, and OSINT picks up those fragments of data. The information is vast, so an OSINT framework provides links to the best resources to easily find information about a target and browse various OSINT tools.

The main types of OSINT resources are mass media (such as print, digital, TV, radio); “gray literature” (such as documents and reports from charities, census data, and academic publications); and social media.

Web searches encompass three categories:
Surface web, which is the traditional method/platform;
Deep web/dark net, which requires a specific URL or IP address; and
Dark web, which requires special tools, such as the anonymizing browser Tor.

The OSINT cycle starts with planning to ensure there’s a clear understanding of the types of information needed. It then proceeds to collecting, processing, and analyzing the data before the intelligence is ultimately disseminated.

The process is time-consuming, which is why Godwin is encouraged to see departments hiring full-time crime analysts to lead the charge and ensure information is gathered effectively and ethically.

5) Artificial intelligence: Growing & evolving

Illustration showing "AI" for "artificial intelligence"No technology has exploded more in recent times than artificial intelligence (AI). It’s considered the next big thing, even though machine learning dates to the 1950s. “AI is not yet widely used internally, but it will be,” Godwin says.

Police departments around the United States already use a form of AI in image recognition technology that reads license plates and other vehicle information. Similarly, Godwin expects facial recognition technology to become a “more powerful and more important” tool in improving efficiencies in law enforcement and getting criminals off the streets.

“There are so many cameras everywhere you go,” he says. “I think that’s where the future will go for us, making it much easier to solve crimes.” (Facial recognition technology helped authorities identify some of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. More recently, authorities in the United Kingdom used it to investigate child exploitation cold cases, which led to the arrest of a Missouri man.)

Analytically, AI is being used in criminal investigations to help sift through vast amounts of data. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) uses Logikcull to filter, gather, and package information for law enforcement and prosecutors. The AI tool has saved NCMEC thousands of hours, allowing its legal staff to operate more efficiently.

The downsides of AI include deepfake technology that can convincingly mimic a person’s physical appearance and voice. Last year, federal officials even issued warnings about virtual kidnapping fraud that uses AI to clone a loved one’s voice.

Display text: The DOJ’s Emerging Technology Board, recently established to govern AI, aims to monitor its complexities while also promoting its ethical, responsible use. The Board also plans to share best practices with law enforcement.Godwin expects deepfake detection apps and tools to make strides, though they are evolving.

Detection tools already available include Google’s SynthID and Meta’s Stable Signature, which embed digital watermarks in video and audio; Pindrop and Veridas, which examine details such as how sounds of words sync up with a speaker’s mouth; and AntiFake, which scrambles an audio signal to make it harder to be cloned by AI.

As deepfake technology becomes more sophisticated, some experts are calling on the federal government to regulate it. Additionally, critics claim that law enforcement’s use of AI technology could infringe on privacy and civil rights, leading to false arrests. And there’s concern that “automation bias”—a person’s propensity to trust automated systems over their own judgment—could have authorities failing to look at the information critically.

Godwin knows that organizations will need to balance the risk and rewards of AI, which U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco calls one of “the most important issues we face in law enforcement, national security, the protection of privacy, and civil liberties.”

Be on the Lookout: More Tech Advances

Image depicting a Native American using technologyBetter Equipping Indian Country


  • On November 30, 2023, the U.S. Department of the Interior established a new Office of Indigenous Communications and Technology (OICT) to assist Tribal Nations in managing, developing, and maintaining broadband infrastructure, new electromagnetic spectrum easing mechanisms, and in providing technical assistance for the establishment of wireless, digital, and technological projects on Tribal lands.
  • The Biden administration has pledged nearly $3 billion to expand access to broadband on Tribal lands. The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, part of the White House’s “Internet for All Initiative,” has so far awarded $1.86 billion in grants to 226 Tribal communities to build highspeed Internet infrastructures, establish affordable Internet access programs, and support digital inclusion projects.


  • The AATTAP’s AMBER Alert in Indian Country (AIIC) team is continuing to distribute Technology Toolkits to Tribal law enforcement agencies from Alabama to Washington. Equipped with a rugged portable case, Toughbook tablet, digital camera, and more, the toolkits provide Tribal authorities with additional resources to best respond to cases of missing and abducted children. “Tribal communities have long lacked access to high-speed Internet, limiting their ability in the field—especially in remote areas where rugged terrain makes it difficult to build infrastructure,” says AIIC Program Manager Tyesha Wood.
  • The AIIC has partnered with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to offer high-speed, wireless Internet service to select Tribes. Congress established the independent authority to develop a nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety. More than 70 Tribal nations use FirstNet, and in the last two years, coverage (through AT&T) has increased more than 40 percent on federally recognized Tribal lands.
  • The Navajo Nation—the largest Indian reservation in the U.S., spanning three states—is building a vast modern communications system. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority earmarked its $50 million grant to fund 11 new telecommunications towers, install more than 200 miles of fiber and cable/wireless broadband equipment, and increase or connect high-speed Internet to more than 20,000 Native American households. It also aims to enhance mobile broadband connectivity for first responders.

NCMEC’s QR Code to the Rescue

NCMEC QR codeThe National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is confident one of its newest tech-smart initiatives—using a QR code on missing child posters—can revolutionize the search for endangered missing children.

By scanning the poster’s QR code with a cell phone, the user can get much more information than what a poster typically would allow. Users can also access photos and descriptive details for all missing children reported within a 50-mile radius. “Instead of sharing one missing child poster, the public can view all missing children in their immediate area, whether they are at home or traveling,” said Dr. John E. Bischoff, Vice President of NCMEC’s Missing Children Division, at the 2023 AATTAP-AIIC National Symposium.

NCMEC’s posters will also have larger photos of the missing child and eliminate extraneous details, such as date of birth, when the child’s age will suffice.

Policing Bad Apps

Image illustrating dangerous apps on a cell phoneA tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is identifying risky apps concerning child exploitation. The App Danger Project, a website designed to create a safer online environment and help parents determine what apps are safe for their children to use, lists more than 180 apps across Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store that meet its criteria for being considered dangerous. The website also includes a search tool to easily analyze user reviews of specific apps. As a result of the initiative, Apple has removed 10 apps to date that violated the company’s guidelines.

Data Mining is Gold—But Tricky

With the amount of data law enforcement can leverage through technology, it’s crucial to have a strategy to mine the information efficiently and ethically. According to a recent article in Police Chief Magazine, the data should be stored in a single platform that can be accessed by everyone in the department, while ensuring the public’s trust is maintained. Some agencies are innovating to effectively create real-time crime centers (RTCC) that bring together data from various sources to improve efficiencies and enhance public safety.

For Searches, the Heat is On

Drones with thermal cameras are becoming a must-have tool in missing persons searches. The drones, which can be deployed quickly and cover vast areas, are able to detect body heat, even if the person reported missing is in thick brush or dark conditions. The heat signature from the thermal camera provides real-time intelligence to direct searchers to the location.

Forensic Genetic Genealogy Cracks Cold Cases

Even as the debate about DNA-related privacy issues persists, forensic investigative genetic genealogy (“FIGG”) is solving high-profile cases previously thought to be unsolvable. The emerging practice combines DNA analysis with traditional genealogy research to identify suspects and the remains of missing persons. Using FIGG, law enforcement can search ancestry databases containing DNA profiles of consenting people who are tracking family history. FIGG took hold in 2018 after authorities used GEDmatch to identify the Golden State Killer; and one researcher estimates more than 500 cold cases have been solved since.

Geolocation Finds Favor

Police in Pennsylvania have an iPad to thank for the swift recovery of an abducted 11-year-old girl—and the case serves as an example of how geolocation has become a proven investigative tool. Authorities were able to ping the location of the girl’s tablet to track her whereabouts, and ultimately arrest a man on luring charges. Geolocation uses GPS, cell phone towers, and WiFi signals to track a device (such as a cell phone, tablet, or computer), and the pings have become a key part of searches. More recently, geolocation satellite data is being integrated into artificial intelligence to enhance data analysis.