Col. Robert Nader Explains What it Takes to Catch a Criminal

Hint: More than a 60-minute episode.

Col. Robert Nader served on the Covington Police Department for roughly 20 years before being promoted to chief last fall. In that time, advances in technology transformed how he and the rest of the department approach day-to-day tasks such as collecting evidence to build a case and tracking down and ultimately arresting criminals. A true shoe-leather policeman, Nader explains that despite all of the new developments in technology—social media, surveillance, and tools for DNA analysis—the core of his work still involves getting out into the community and talking to real people.

Illustration by Matt Murphy

What about the arrest process is different from 10 or 20 years ago? There are a lot of technology changes with the body camera system, Tasers, and other nonlethal tools at our disposal. They’ve been helpful with transparency issues and cause less harm to the person who may be fighting with the officer [during an arrest].

How else has technology shaped the way you handle arrests? We used to have “wanted” posters back in the day that would be posted inside police departments or handed out to officers to help them look for someone. With the rise in technology, now we can blast that information out to the whole department quicker, as well as to other departments in the region—or even farther away if we’re looking for someone who’s on the run.

Col. Nader

Illustration by Tim McDonagh

What are some examples of newer technologies being used in police work? For arresting people, social media is the biggest thing we’re using now. We don’t have actual new tools; there are no robots making the arrests for us or anything like that. It’s still mostly a human connection. I think it’s been pretty helpful finding people by putting it out to social media or using news outlets to let people know who we’re looking for and getting tips.

Which tools have had the most impact? I think the biggest thing is surveillance cameras. It used to be that they were maybe only in corner stores or banks, and at the time the picture quality wasn’t even that good. Now they have greatly improved, and we can take their shots of the crime that’s being committed and push that out a lot quicker because of social media and other technology. Homeowners now have the same access to surveillance equipment, when at one time the only people who could afford it were banks and institutions like that.

How does your job differ from TV’s portrayal of the arrest process and the technologies used? I don’t watch all the shows, but in a lot of community meetings we have to explain that popular TV shows like CSI are not real life—we usually can’t use a dust particle to ID a person in a quick and timely manner. We still take evidence and send it away, but the turnaround is based on the backlog of state technicians who provide arrest leads back to us. I think one of the things that’s overestimated or exaggerated on TV is the quickness. The techniques they use on TV are not realistic.

Are there other public misconceptions these days? I think the major one is about what law enforcement can or can’t do. Some people believe that when they lodge a complaint we can just arrest anybody for any crime, but we still have to develop a case and find evidence and probable cause. Or in some situations involving misdemeanors, the crime has to occur in our presence before we can make an arrest.

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