By Susanna Speier
Denver Private Investigator Blogger
“Facebook messenger coming [to] Apple watch. Txt audio, share location. A different take on Dick Tracy,” tweeted The Huffington Post, Senior Tech & Society editor, Alex Howard. He was sharing his impressions of Tim Cooke’s September 10th Apple Event presentation and the reference to the fictitious detective caught our attention. Could Apple’s latest smart device, with its integration of Facebook, text audio and location also be relevant to real life detective work? We began by tracing the fictitious two-way crime fighting wrist radio’s origin:
The Dick Tracy comic premiered October 4, 1931, according to the Dick Tracy museum. It first ran in the Detroit Mirror, then the New York Daily News and then the Chicago Tribune. Creator, Chester Gould, ran the strip until his retirement in 1977.
According to Smithsonian Magazine writer, Erin Blakemore, Dick Tracy was being referenced in tech commercials since shortly after its comic book debut.
It wasn’t until1946, however, the comic detective’s creator, Chester Gould, introduced Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio. To introduce the watch, Gould initially broke the comic strip’s forth wall and entered the his own comic strip to hand the two way wrist radio over to his protagonist to get him out of a jam. The nonplussed editors at Chicago Tribune, however vetoed the Brechtian frames and that strip never ran. According to Michael Daly’s Daily Beast article, “How Dick Tracy Invented the Apple Watch.”
It was replaced by a strip where a young inventor named Brilliant (based on the real life inventor, Al Gross) handed the watch over to Tracy. Brilliant eventually got killed off but the wildly popular watch stuck around and in the early 1960s it captured the imagination of the five-year-old Tim Cook.
Fast forward to March of 2015. A world news clip shows Apple’s exuberant CEO saying, “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was five years old” and Reuters reports, “The Apple Watch sport will start at $349 for the smaller, 38-mm model. The standard version of the watch will start at $549 and the high-end "Edition" watch will be priced from $10,000, said Cook, who loved the Dick Tracy ability to hold phone calls by watch.”
The ability to hold phone calls by watch, however, is just one of myriad options available to investigators and detectives, now. “With all of the covert video with audio options today,” points out Ross Investigators’ Senior Investigator, Sean Meade, “just audio is rarely used. Everyone wants date and time stamp and pictures to prove who said what. Even in police interviews today everything is video so no doubt can be raised as to who said what.”
Although she has no plans to upgrade, Ross Investigators’ Senior Associate Investigator, Paige Kilpatrick, “use(s) apple products almost exclusively. I have a Mac, laptop, iPad and iPhone.” Ross Investigators’ associate investigator, Gary Brown also uses an iPhone and a MacBook Air in the field, “basically for research, some pictures to avoid writing things down until later, video in some cases helps me document scene/area better, voice messages.” Despite their usefulness, however, he is “not planning to buy anything at this time.”
Texas based private investigation firm, Covert Investigations, owner and manager Chet Engstrom also has no intention of buying the new Apple product. He does, however, modified his current Apple devices. “For work we use only our modified iPhones with built-in cameras that have date & time stamp. Without this stamp the evidence is worthless,” he explains. He “take(s) pictures and does shoot video and that’s it. No calls or texts or internet.”
This is because “in our company we prefer using only professional equipment that helps us to get results suitable for court if needed.” Reiterating that “date and time stamp (are) very important, cameras of regular phones don’t have this option but you can’t go to court without time and date indications on pictures and videos and we also prefer shooting videos (to) pictures because you can always make pictures out of video.”
To further clarify the importance of modifying iPhones when using them for surveillance Engstrom draws upon a real life example. “We’re in the elevator with a target, making video with our modified iPhone but pretending I’m on the phone with somebody else. If I use my regular phone, anybody can call me at this moment and I’m burnt.”
He was on an elevator, pretending to be having a phone conversation on his iPhone while doing surveillance. If a real caller had actually tried to get through, his cover would be blown. The self-modified iPhone that looks like just a two-way phone, is therefore his more useful in the field than the Dick Tracy inspired Apple Watch.
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