The Atlantic

How Will Police Solve Murders on Mars?

Mars P.D. will have to deal with new blood-spatter patterns, different body decay rates, and space-suit sabotage—and they won’t be able to fire guns indoors.
Source: Matt Chinworth

If humans ever go to Mars, the worst of our impulses will accompany us there. The Red Planet will not rid us of murder, violence, and blackmail. There will be kidnapping, extortion, and burglary. Given time, we will even see bank heists. For generations, people have imagined life on the Martian surface in extraordinary detail, from how drinking water will be purified to how fresh food will be grown, but there is another question that remains unanswered: How will Mars be policed?

Suppose, at some date in the future, Mars has been populated for long enough that at least three generations have been born there; that’s at least three generations who have never known life on Earth. In this scenario, the human population on Mars is also large enough that a person can run into at least three strangers—three people they have never seen before—every day. And, finally, there are enough settlements on Mars—villages, farms, industrial plants, scientific labs, whole cities—that 90 percent of the population has at least one community they have yet to visit in person. What criminal possibilities will emerge in this scenario? Who will be tasked with tracking down vandals, thieves, and saboteurs, let alone rapists and serial murderers?

When similar demographic milestones were reached here on Earth, our methods of policing adapted accordingly. We introduced publicly funded streetlights. We opened police precincts in new, far-flung neighborhoods. We trained a veritable army of professional detectives, including those who would work undercover. We gave cops access to the most advanced technologies we could justify, from hand-me-down military vehicles to drones. We began investigating the police themselves through the implementation of body cameras and the innovation of Internal Affairs. With Martian crime, however, the promise is that we can figure all this out ahead of time. We can design a Mars Police Department before we get there, knowing that we’ll need its investigatory and carceral powers to help keep human settlers safe.

Christyann Darwent is an archaeologist at the University of California at Davis. Darwent does her fieldwork in the Canadian High Arctic, a place so frigid and remote that it has been used as a training ground to prepare astronauts for future missions to Mars. Darwent’s expertise in how organic materials break down in extreme environmental conditions gives her unique insights into how corpses might age on the Red Planet.

As we speculated about the future of Martian law enforcement, Darwent 5,300 years after his murder. Ötzi’s body was so well preserved that . Murderers on Mars might have their hands full: The bodies of their victims, abandoned in remote canyons or unmapped caves, could persist in the Martian landscape “in perpetuity,” Darwent suggested.

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