Boston police cruisers get fitted with GPS tracking

Administrators say the units will improve the department's emergency responsiveness, giving dispatchers the ability to see the locations of officers rather than waiting for a radio response.

While the Boston Police Department is the latest law enforcement agency to consider installing GPS trackers on officers’ cruisers, it’s not a universally appreciated technological development. Some officers are concerned that commanders will be continually monitoring their movements, possibly jeopardizing investigations.

Administrators say the units will improve the department’s emergency responsiveness, giving dispatchers the ability to see the locations of officers rather than waiting for a radio response. It will also help ensure officers patrol their assigned zones. It can also help save money by monitoring the cruisers’ fuel efficiency.

Opponents express concern about the GPS being hacked, leading to more crime. However, Cheryl Fiandaca, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, said the system is secure since it is on a private network rather than the public Internet, the Boston Globe reported

Such a concern is not without merit. This summer Todd Humphreys, an assistant professor from the University of Texas at Austin, used GPS spoofing to take control of a 65-meter, $80 million super yacht in the Ionian Sea Last year, Humphreys demonstrated how he and his students could use GPS spoofing to take control of drone aircraft in flight with a kit that cost $1,000.

Law enforcement and other emergency response departments including police in Chicago, Houston, Atlantic Beach, Fla., and Albany, Ga., have already installed GPS in vehicles. The police department in Atlantic Beach began installing GPS in vehicles in 2009, according to the Florida Times-Union

GPS vehicle tracking may be new to police departments, but it has been used for years by fleet owners in the private sector to track their goods in transit as evidenced by the many companies that offer GPS vehicle tracking, including FleetMatics (used by the Atlantic Beach police), Ravtrac, LiveViewGPS, InSight Mobile Data, Trimble and CES Wireless Technologies. The General Services Administration even has guidelines on purchasing vehicle monitoring equipment.  

More recently an Edmond, Okla., school system ordered GPS vehicle tracking technology from US Fleet Tracking to monitor its school buses. The school system can monitor its fleet of school buses with such features as preset routes, idle times and vehicle maintenance reminders. Additionally, parents can watch their child’s bus location live as it travels.

Installation of the GPS system in the police cruisers still requires funding approval from the Boston City Council.

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