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New technology allows cops to track suspects remotely

Police will be able to track suspect remotely, in real time, through surveillance cameras

By Beatriz Alvarado
Corpus Christi Caller-Times

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — With a dry-erase marker in hand, Cmdr. John Houston drew hypothetical city blocks on a white board.

“An incident — or crime — happens here,” he said, drawing a circle at one of the intersections.

“The city has a camera here, here and here,” he said, marking out more circles. “Now you have a camera at your house. And this person has one, and this one has one.”

About eight circles in, Houston adds a fleeing suspect to the scenario.

If all goes as planned, police will be able to track that suspect remotely — in real time — through surveillance cameras being monitored from police headquarters.

About $290,000 is being appropriated to the citywide camera interoperability project from the Crime Control and Prevention District fund.

The project is in its bidding stage and the money will be used for its first phase, which includes building a central monitoring hub that can tap into any of the about 200 city cameras, a mobile command post with similar capacities, upgrading department surveillance technology and replacing outdated city cameras.

“The connectivity and interoperability pieces of the project are being addressed but the department has taken control of some existing city cameras,” Interim Police Chief Michael Markle said. “System upgrades that allow surveillance and a coordinated responses to incidents through the central hub have been incorporated.”

A conference room at police headquarters downtown will be equipped with monitoring technology similar to the Philadelphia Police Department’s Real-Time Crime Center, which aggregates video feeds from police surveillance cameras around the city.

“In (Philadelphia) we saw an incident (during which) a crime occurred and they tracked the guy for 4 and a half miles of city,” Houston said.

Federal grants paid $10.6 million of the Philadelphia center’s $20 million cost, according to reports, but locally the department will execute phases within its appropriated budget.

The Philadelphia center employs about 135 people. The Corpus Christi center will be manned by three employees, Houston said.

Police departments in Albuquerque, New York, St. Louis and Houston, among others, have established similar city surveillance models.

The residential cameras on the hypothetical map Houston drew are a separate component to the overall goal of interoperability.

Unless the home cameras are registered on the department’s WatchCam Program, a way for private camera owners to allow police access in the event of a crime, officers would not be able to view the footage.

There were about 25 registered cameras as of this month, Houston said.

Philadelphia Police Lt. John Stanford said the department’s Safecam program mirrors WatchCam, but there are some differences.

Philadelphia officers are trained to piece together footage that can identify or help find the crime suspect and share the information via the department website and social media, he said.

“It’s kind of like a commercial,” Stanford said.

That strategy yielded 150 arrests and cleared 300 investigations, Stanford said.

The local footage will only be reviewed by police.

But the first budget appropriation is a small step toward establishing a foundation for something bigger, Houston said.

“We are getting the groundwork done that will be built on overtime,” he said.

Copyright 2015 Corpus Christi Caller-Times