Case study: Using falcons and ravens to detect crimes in progress

A Georgia agency saw dramatic decreases in crime after camera deployment

Do you have a few areas under your jurisdiction with a higher crime rate than others? Do you wish you could add more staff to focus on those high crime areas? Personnel are hard to come by these days, especially with fewer new officers going through the academy. Would you be interested if someone showed you a solution that never sleeps and is proven to lower crime rates? You would jump at it, wouldn’t you? That’s just what Deputy Chief Stuart VanHoozer in Cobb County, Georgia did.

Cobb County is 345 square miles with a population of 790,000. Two specific areas of the county were known to have much higher crime rates than the rest. For a while, VanHoozer put extra officers into those hot zones to increase the visibility and arrest rate, but as soon as offenders knew that the cops were gone, the crime rate went back up again. Keeping extra officers in these two areas had the side effect of lowering police presence and increasing response times in other areas – an unworkable solution.

Nearly by accident, VanHoozer, who was deputy chief commander at the time, found a better solution by attending a meeting of multiple homeowner associations that came together to share the tips and tricks they used to keep their neighborhoods safe. At this meeting, a company called Flock was demonstrating a standalone camera system with some cool features built into it. The idea was those homeowner associations would be able to track vehicles coming into and out of their neighborhoods so that if a crime occurred, the data could be used to help determine the perpetrator.

Citizens in high-crime areas were willing to let the cameras be installed with a promise that crime would decrease.
Citizens in high-crime areas were willing to let the cameras be installed with a promise that crime would decrease. (Flock Safety)

Flock’s system can track and look up the plate – permanent, temporary, or partial plates – in a backend database and capture signature information such as the make, model and color of the vehicle along with other details such as bumper stickers, decals and roof racks. And because the system is solar-powered and has a cellular card, almost no infrastructure is required for deployment. Just set and forget until you get an automated hit or want to review the data manually.

VanHoozer’s presence at the homeowners meeting started a conversation between Cobb County and Flock and a partnership was born.

VanHoozer decided to try out a handful of the first-generation cameras in one of the highest crime areas. Instead of placing them in a grid, Flock and Vanhoozer’s detectives spent over a month looking at a map of victim reports and possible vantage points that would cover those areas. From this information, they worked to place the devices so that dispatched cops can tell exactly where something happened, and with a high probability, know in which direction the suspect vehicle was heading.

Cobb County leadership was proactive and before the first camera was placed, they brought in multiple citizens and community groups to gain their input. Surveys helped determine whether citizens felt that the system was appropriate or an invasion of privacy. Not surprisingly, citizens in high-crime areas were willing to let the cameras be installed with a promise that crime would decrease.

Did it work?

Beat officers provided positive feedback to command staff about the system but more importantly, arrests went up substantially. Compared to the baseline, after 6 months, the drop in crimes committed was 30%-52%. The 52% drop was for a 4-on-1 armed robbery with pistol-whipping, a favorite MO in Cobb County.

After another 6 months, the crime rates got better, with a 60% drop a year after the cameras were installed. In fact, the Flock camera system, now going by the name “Falcon,” helped pick up 7 homicide offenders versus 1 before the system was installed. Software that combines multiple data feeds can compare Falcon alerts to police reports. If command staff see hits that are not mentioned in reports, that could mean that shifts or precincts aren’t using the product to its full potential.

VanHoozer found out that offenders are not able to figure out how to game the “Falcon” system and cameras were added to additional areas – which still are working even with the drop in stranger-to-stranger crime and increase in known-offender crimes triggered by COVID.

The back-end software driving the system can be linked to adjoining jurisdictions’ hotlists or your NCIC feed. If a car is stolen in one jurisdiction and reported, Flock’s connector will download and watch for the vehicle – without intervention. Command staff like Falcon because of the extremely low false hit rate. If there are too many false hits, officers will start ignoring all hits.

Sound also is important

Flock just announced the release of its Raven product. Using advanced audio processing, Raven will be able to detect gunshots, glass breaking, metal being sawed, cars peeling out, brakes screeching and more. Are you coming up with ideas yet? Perhaps you could use Ravens to detect auto break-ins, catalytic convertor theft, sideshows and street racing just to name a few crimes with an audio signature.

By linking Falcons and Ravens, you not only can detect a crime in progress but also track the vehicle used as the getaway car. Imagine being able to see a stolen car come into your jurisdiction and park in front of a building followed by hearing gunshots then tires peeling out. Think you could put a case together using just that information? Probably.

Plenty of companies are moving toward automation and artificial intelligence to help alleviate staffing issues. With more cops retiring and fewer cops joining, perhaps it’s time for law enforcement to do the same. Click here for further information on Falcon and Raven and how they can help lower crime in your city, county, or state.

NEXT: Technology procurement: Why community buy-in is key

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