Police departments are deterring, identifying and solving crimes faster in real time
From big cities to small towns, a police force is in place to keep a watchful eye on day-to-day activities to make sure the actions of others remain civil and just. But the sounds of sirens and flashing blue lights are a clear indicator that crime, unfortunately, is everywhere. Now think of a time when you were, perhaps, driving and came across a hit-and-run or someone recklessly drove by you at a top speed of 100 mph or more. Now think about a time you may have witnessed a purse being snatched from a pedestrian, an argument that escalated into a fight or even someone in need of medical attention on a busy street. Law enforcement can’t be everywhere all of the time, but they are quickly reachable through the emergency 9-1-1 system. As cities and towns continue to grow, the watchful eyes of the law must grow along with it. And thanks to ever-changing technology those eyes could be behind a camera lens.
In 2010, the city of Austin opened a real-time crime center. Sitting within the walls of this center are police officers that monitor High Activity Location Observation (HALO) cameras. “We staff these HALO officers according to call load and so primarily they are more heavily staffed on weekends and at night with a lighter personnel level during the day,” said Commander Darryl Jamail, who is over the intelligence division of the Austin Police Department, which includes the real-time crime center and regional intelligence center- also known as the fusion center. A couple of the locations for these movable, monitored cameras is 6th Street and Rundberg Lane.
Thirteen years ago, the city of Houston also established a facility that could help connect police with locations throughout the community and streamline communication throughout the department. “We work a lot with investigative divisions to help collect and analyze information and perform extensive research,” said Sgt. Ben Williams, who is the administrative sergeant of the Houston Police Department’s real-time crime center. “Sometimes we help other agencies, such as those out of state that have a case that involves something in Houston, whether it’s a piece of property or they think maybe the suspect is here or has been through here. We help them with research on that.”
Other useful tools within the real-time crime center provide personal identifying information that the center can share with officers on the street. “If an officer is going to a residence, they can call a HALO officer and ask them for what is called an involvement check to see what has happened at that residence in the past,” said Jamail. “The officers can see if the resident had called the police before, had family disturbances, so the officers have a better idea about what they are going into.” During Austin’s South by Southwest festival, a couple of groups got into a shoving match on the street and police broke up the fight. The individuals headed back to their vehicles and one of them was caught on camera firing three rounds from a gun out of the car’s window. “That is a thing that the system works really well for,” said Jamail. “Evidence was just critical to the prosecution and here we have them on video.”
But these video cameras and other technology in the real-time crime center come at a price. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the game and in some of our technology we are just trying to stay with the game,” said Williams. He said that Houston police have partnered with other foundations and received national grants to help alleviate the cost of a facility that has reflected positively on why it should be in existence. “I have been on the street and I have been an investigator and I can tell you that this facility is utilized by both,” said Williams. “Absolutely, without a doubt, from my personal experience on the other end, investigations and field activities are made easier, more efficient and come to a quicker resolution because of this place.”
In Austin, the police department has turned to public-private partnerships. Jamail shared that in Detroit, the police have what is called Project Green Light where businesses can actually set up a system within certain specifications where the police department can access their camera system. They sign an agreement with the police department giving them access to the system without having to come up with the funds or installation. According to Jamail, Austin police currently have a pilot program running at a couple of locations in town to see if the system is compatible and effective. “The private sector is eager to put a system in and give us access, but we just have to make sure we are doing it right and have a consistent platform that works well with our system.”
Houston and Austin are growing at a fast pace and their real-time crime centers will help them keep up. In 2015, Austin police took over a million 9-1-1 calls. “That volume restricts the amount of time a police dispatcher can spend on a call and HALO officers can give that support to the patrol officers in more detail,” said Jamail. “On an average month we get about 120 to 130 requests to search video and 40 or 50 or those requests come back with actionable intelligence meaning evidence that can be used in a case.” These investigations can run beyond the borders of a city, even beyond Texas. According to Jamail, there are six regional intelligence (fusion) centers in Texas. The real-time crime centers communicate with these fusion centers, including those that are located throughout the U.S. This is how information is shared with the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security. “The fusion centers coordinate the sharing of information between all the different law enforcement agencies within the region,” said Jamail. ” If there is suspicious activity that could be potentially terrorism related we can push that up to the FBI and make sure that is where it needs to go.”
The Houston and Austin real-time crime centers have had visitors from Texas and abroad who were interested in implementing a center in their area. Visitors from Montgomery County took a tour or the Austin facility and they also had a group from Egypt who visited and exchanged information on implementing this type of technology. The high level of interest can be seen throughout the U.S. as cities release bids for real-time crime center upgrades or implementation.
In Illinois, the city of Rockford’s Police Department is soliciting requests from vendors who provide planning services related to real time crime information centers. It states in the request for proposals that the municipality suffers from a dwindling tax base, high poverty rate and high crime rate. The ambition for investing in the real-time crime center is to leverage technology as a force multiplier for their police department and other public safety agencies. The request for proposals (RFP) seeks vendors who have experience with gunshot detection systems, camera systems, mobile and fixed automatic license plate readers, video aggregation systems and technologies that provide integration between these systems. The RFP is due by May 23.
In Louisiana, the city of New Orleans is seeking bids to renovate an existing building to house operations to monitor crime cameras for a real-time crime center. This includes interior renovations on the first-floor lobby and fifth-floor office space, as well as limited exterior improvements to entry, parking garage and more. The bid submission is due by June 13.
In Utah, Ogden City has released a request for proposals (RFP) for a consulting firm to conduct a general management and operations study on the Ogden Police Department. Part of the study will include analyzing the efficiency and effectiveness of the policies, procedure and management of the department. The firm will also define critical issues facing the police department over the next five to ten years; analyze the impact of anticipated growth on staffing levels and calls for service; and outline a process for incorporating study results, including recommendations for a real-time crime center and any long term capital needs, into a Strategic Plan for the department. A mandatory pre-submittal meeting will be held May 25 and the RFP is due by June 16.