What you can learn from your bag of swag: Notes from IACP Tech

Last week, I attended the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s annual Technology Conference (IACP Tech) for the first time. My teaching schedule prevented me from attending as much of the event as I’d have liked, but I was there long enough to present a workshop session with a SWGDE Video Committee colleague (Sgt. Brandon Epstein of the New Brunswick PD — see slides from our talk on hiring and training staff for effective management of video evidence here). I also got to meet and talk with some interesting people from agencies all over the US and Canada, and I took a walk through the exhibit hall, where I talked to over a dozen vendors about their products and services.

If you go to professional association meetings and conferences and take the time to check out the vendor booths, you will learn as much about trends in your industry as anyone who attends the keynotes, workshops, papers, and panel sessions — perhaps even more. As a non-LEO (law enforcement officer/organization) attendee of IACP Tech, I found it easier to engage with the vendors here than at archives-oriented conferences, perhaps because I wasn’t remotely in a position to buy anything they were selling. I was up-front about the fact that I wasn’t really a potential customer or agency decision-maker, but that I was interested in their products/services and where they fit into the big picture of a community of practice I’m seeking to understand better. Pretty much everyone just shrugged, scanned my badge if they had a raffle in progress, and made what I’m pretty sure would be their usual sales pitch.

IACP Tech is the new name for the Law Enforcement Information Management (LEIM) Education Conference and Technology Exposition; IACP’s own description of the event notes that it’s a venue for exchanging “information, best practices and lessons learned regarding state-of-the-art law enforcement information management, communications and interoperability, technology standards, and information sharing, analysis and fusion.” The technology products and services being promoted were therefore more likely to be platforms or applications than objects or equipment (my sense is that the fall IACP meeting is where more equipment vendors go). Vendors of in-car video systems and body-worn camera tech were present, but there were far greater numbers of people who were promoting video-processing products such as ALPR (automated license plate recognition), facial recognition, digital evidence management, or automated redaction software. Some of the demos were visually impressive; one vendor had a monitor set up to demonstrate how their application recognizes and automatically blurs human faces in real time. You can see it working on me, to my evident amusement, in this pic courtesy of Brandon Epstein:

Epstein_redaction_selfie

Others products I saw demonstrated were impressive for their computational power, the elegance and effectiveness (or clunkiness and utilitarianism) of their interfaces — as well as for their implications for personal privacy, or for the authenticity and integrity of recorded information they interfaced with. I picked up flyers for virtually everything, much of which I still need to read through; I’ll be doing so with an archivist’s eye, and looking for material that will support the next iteration of the class on bodycams, surveillance and data management that my “On the Record, All the Time” research partner Jean-Francois Blanchette and I taught last fall.

In some cases, not just the vendors’ sales pitches and products, but the swag itself — the giveaways and promotional trinkets — pointed toward the changing world we live in. One vendor was handing out webcam covers emblazoned with their logo, little plastic shutters you could stick to your laptop and slide to open or close, preventing unwanted intrusion and surveillance. Another had sticky note pads printed to look like citation books — funny if you like pretending you’re writing someone a ticket for missing an important phone call; less so if you’re concerned about the possibility of your coworkers, family members, or neighbors monitoring and reporting your behavior to authorities. Other vendors were handing out microfiber cloths — so handy for cleaning those screens that are increasingly prevalent in law enforcement work, as elsewhere! But there was no shortage, either, of pens, sticky notes, and paper pads and notebooks…which tends to make me think taking good old-fashioned hand-written notes has not been completely supplanted by electronic equivalents. Perhaps most suggestive, though, was the foam-rubber toy in the shape of a head with a demented expression on its face, which, when squeezed, would holler a series of rather agitating commands to seek serenity: “HOOOOOOLLD ON NOW! TAAAAAKE IT EASY! DOOOON’T STRESS!” As with many of the products and platforms on display, this device seemed as likely to create headaches as to relieve them.