THIN BLUE LIE by Matt Stroud


The Failure of High-Tech Policing
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An exploration of how high-tech advancements in law enforcement are failing.

Journalist Stroud has developed a specialized beat for periodicals about corporations who develop technologies for law enforcement agencies and prisons. In this overview, he shows pointedly that technological devices—including Tasers, body cameras, computerized crime control, facial recognition software, surveillance cameras in public places, and cellphone tracking—may make policing more convenient but do not lead to better outcomes. Much of the narrative is historical, as the author explains how law enforcement evolved in the United States. He takes readers back to 1905, when Berkeley, California—like many cities at the time—lacked a police department. So an ambitious local resident named August Vollmer created a law enforcement unit and sought out whatever firepower technology could provide. Some of Vollmer’s ideas—hiring educated officers, reaching out directly to neighborhoods (although more enthusiastically to white enclaves than those with people of color)—were progressive. However, the brute force Vollmer employed set the tone. A century later, Stroud explains, the massive police departments that can most easily afford technology, especially Los Angeles and New York City, are the leaders, with smaller departments often following examples that may be counterproductive. The author’s primary narrative thread involves the development and marketing of stun guns, which are often referred to by the name of one brand, the Taser. Though Stroud’s lengthy discussions about the financial hurdles faced by stun gun manufacturers become tiresome, on the whole, the author writes clearly and compellingly, and he shows how some companies oversold their technologies to police based on a desperation for profits. Stroud also weaves in concerns about ethics and civil rights and how, often, “the confidence that politicians place in [the technology] reflects an oversimplified understanding of the underlying difficulties.”

A useful book. Wisely, Stroud never loses sight of an overriding reality: that technology is never a substitute for compassionate policing based on trust between cops and the citizens they are paid to serve.

Pub Date: March 19th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-250-10829-6
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2019


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