The 3 fundamentals of an effective real-time crime center
Make sure your RTCC is prepared to manage your growing use of technology-driven policing
Law enforcement agencies are quickly realizing how effective technology can be when it comes to new ways of fighting crime. Tools like ALPR cameras, gunshot-detection devices, police drones, remotely viewed cameras and others are not new, but layering these tools together to fight crime is rapidly becoming the standard in a new policing paradigm called technology-driven policing.
Technology-driven policing (TDP) is the process of using technology to proactively disrupt or reactively investigate crime. TDP is arguably the future of law enforcement, and with that comes the need to have a centralized group to manage the technology. Although it can be performed through a dispatch center or with officers on the street, maximizing effectiveness requires a dedicated unit. Real-time crime centers (RTCCs) are the natural home to undertake that task, but many agencies are discovering that while it may be easy to build an RTCC, it’s not easy to be an RTCC.
Lessons learned from several very effective crime centers point to a pattern for success. Certain pieces of technology, such as fixed ALPR cameras and live-streaming IP cameras, are among the most valuable tools used, but these tools are only effective when paired with personnel who are trained in real-time analysis and given the right mission. Real-time analysis is the rapid analysis of information related to a law enforcement need with the goal of having an immediate impact on officer safety, citizen safety or identification or apprehension of criminal suspects. Effective real-time analysis is vital to any law enforcement agency that wishes to transition to a technology-driven policing concept.
Understandably, each law enforcement agency may have its own idea of what is effective depending on the issues in its area, but several things hold true across the board. For example, the most successful real-time crime centers are almost exclusively proactive in nature. There is very little waiting around, and the officers or analysts proactively help problem-solve for the officers in the streets. There is little downtime, and supervisors have empowered their personnel to creatively get involved in the daily happenings of the department.
Real-time crime centers that are reactive in nature tend to have less success, which breeds frustration with administrators and political leaders. That is not to say reactive RTCCs are not valuable, but the mission of an RTCC in a technology-driven policing agency is to be involved in whatever is occurring at the moment. Only by being proactive with technology can an agency effectively mitigate crime. It is accomplished by focusing on three core pillars of real-time analysis: safety, identification and apprehension.
Conducting real-time analysis to improve officer and citizen safety is the core mission of the most effective RTCCs. Improving safety should always be the first priority in a real-time crime center. The most basic task a proactive RTCC can do to improve officer safety is researching and providing information to officers prior to their arrival on calls for service.
When a law enforcement officer is dispatched to a call for service, they rarely know what they are walking into or who will be involved. A proactive RTCC can do a number of things to improve both situational awareness and officer safety. A simple task is to research the individuals listed on the call to determine if they have any outstanding warrants or violent criminal history.
If remote live-viewing cameras are located near the call, providing real-time situational awareness to the responding officers is another task that increases not only safety but potential investigative leads as well. Several agencies are starting DFR (drone as a first responder) programs, which allow their RTCC or similar group to launch drones for the purpose of situational awareness.
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Drones are an excellent tool for this; however, they are limited in their ability to assist in reactive investigations. Only remotely viewed cameras can provide investigative leads on both proactive and reactive investigations in addition to situational awareness.
It’s unreasonable to expect an officer to perform these tasks while driving to a call, and it’s equally unreasonable to expect a dispatcher to perform the same function. The only caveat is that smaller and midsize agencies can cross-train dispatchers to assist with these tasks – but only if they are trained in real-time analysis and prioritize their dispatching duties. The most effective way to accomplish this is through a dedicated RTCC.
Providing real-time analysis with the goal of assisting the identification of criminal suspects is another vital task for RTCCs. This is not to be confused with reactive, after-the-fact bulletin analysis or assisting on earlier investigations. Real-time analysis for identification purposes in an RTCC is a function related to an active call for service or investigation.
Say someone robs a convenience store. Traditionally, officers would respond and begin gathering evidence, taking witness and victim statements, and collecting video. They would complete a report and send it to a detective, sometimes days later. All these tasks are reactive in nature. When approaching this same situation from a technology-driven policing standpoint in a proactive RTCC, the approach would look more like this:
Prior to officers arriving, the RTCC would reach out to the victim to gather information about any potential vehicle used in the crime. If a vehicle description can be obtained, the RTCC begins searching area cameras and ALPR cameras for a match. If the vehicle is found, the RTCC tracks its direction of travel and attempts to follow it on camera with the goal of trying to find it in real time. If it’s located, RTCC personnel direct officers to a location where they can potentially apprehend a suspect. If it’s not located, a valuable piece of evidence has been obtained that may lead to an identification.
This scenario isn’t science fiction or even unrealistic; it’s common in the most proficient RTCCs with access to the right technology.
Perhaps the most exciting function of an efficient RTCC is taking an active part in the apprehension of those involved in criminal offenses. Many of these incidents are started by RTCCs themselves and do not rely on calls for service or field-generated investigations.
It’s impractical to expect any size police agency to place an officer at a known high crime location 24 hours a day. The unreasonableness grows with the number of high-crime locations in an agency’s jurisdiction. What is more practical is placing a remotely viewed camera at each location and having a single RTCC operator monitor those locations.
Effective and proactive RTCCs relentlessly monitor high crime locations and call in uniformed officers when a criminal offense is spotted. Open-air drug markets where illegal narcotics are bought and sold and prohibited locations where people may illegally possess weapons are excellent locations for cameras. A proactive RTCC, especially when paired with technology-related response teams, can be called in to surgically target the individuals committing the offenses. This also has a chilling effect on others who may be on the fence about committing a crime.
Mitigating crime is not limited to spotting offenses in real time; however, many violent crimes start as a gathering of individuals that escalates. If an RTCC operator spots individuals gathering, officers can be notified to simply park near the group to be seen. Simply being present can mitigate potential violent crimes and does not necessarily require enforcement.
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Focus on the foundations
These three core pillars of real-time analysis are the foundation of an effective RTCC. Focusing on safety, identification and apprehension through a technology-driven policing concept is a scalable approach that any size agency can adopt. This can be performed as effectively in a five-officer agency as it can in a 5,000-officer agency – the important thing to remember is to focus on the foundations. The size and look of the RTCC will never be as important as its effectiveness and understanding these concepts can ease the transition to technology-driven policing.