Reality Check

JANET RENO SAYS Pentagon-sponsored high technology can bring police into the 21st century. Besides, the Attorney General's plan could help a slumping defense industry by finding a new market in crime-fighting. Indeed, the Dick Tracy wizardry being developed by contractors and government labs is dazzling cops. An example is guns that recognize their owners' fingerprints--and can't be fired by anyone else. That could help prevent police deaths caused by their own weapons.

IN REALITY,, much of the technology may prove too expensive and impractical. About 90% of police budgets goes to salaries. So try finding money for the slime gun, which stops crooks in their tracks. This device, developed by Sandia National Laboratories, may cost a prohibitive $1,000 per unit. Plus, the current model requires toting a bulky canister on your back. And some of the stuff is deadlier than it seems, such as pepper spray used for riot control in Somalia. A year ago, police in Concord, N.C., used the spray to subdue a man who had a lung condition. His death set off a weeklong riot.

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