Originally created 04/28/97

Technology and police



Technology may soon lay to rest the most terrifying aspect of public schools these days: Firearm-toting students.

Several schools in our area have hired more guards and use metal detectors to beef up security for teachers and students, yet ugly incidents still do occur.

The technology now under development, however, holds out promise of making it impossible for a student or anyone else to bring a gun where firearms don't belong.

There are two devices in the making, both partly financed by the Department of Justice. One, relying on electro-magnetic waves emitted by the human body, lets security personnel detect metal or plastic weapons with a hand-held camera. The other uses magnetic sensors linked to a computer database to identify specific weapons.

Both weapon detectors are far more sensitive, versatile and efficient than existing metal detectors. At one prison where they were tested, reports The Chicago Tribune, they were so effective that outsiders gave up trying to smuggle in contraband.

Keeping firearms out of schools, of course, is only one of the uses to which these remarkable devices can be put. They'll also make airport passenger checks simpler and quicker - a real mercy for weary travelers.

Recall the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing police to order passengers, as well as drivers, out of cars at traffic arrests? The ruling outraged civil libertarians and others concerned about personal privacy rights. The new devices will render that controversy mute. They'll enable a "search" of the stopped vehicle for weapons before the officers get out of their squad car.

Similar distance searches could take place in other high-risk situations, including "frisking" people who behave suspiciously in public places. These sophisticated crime-fighting technologies, which are expected to be in the hands of police within four years, will herald a new era in un-intrusive law-enforcement.