The mission: Single out offenders, combat violent crime and help officers be proactive
The strategy: A technology-driven approach to policing
Violent crime in the United States has reached levels not seen for decades leaving law enforcement administrators and politicians alike scrambling to find solutions.
More often than not, traditional tactics such as saturation details and increasing the number of officers in hot spots are being used to try and stem the wave of violence sweeping our cities. While these tactics have seen some success in the past, more often than not they are met with criticism about displacing crime or turning entire communities into targets for heavy enforcement.
One of the main goals of law enforcement has always been to find a way to focus on the individuals that are responsible for the majority of crime in our communities, but the solution has always been difficult to find.
Policing paradigms such as intelligence-led policing (ILP) have promised ways to single out these offenders, but those concepts have been heavy on theory and light on actual processes to implement. This has led to frustration in policing agencies that claim ILP as a primary method of policing but lack the understanding or commitment to implement the concept.
Combining these issues with a national slowdown of proactive policing in recent years, agencies are left with a perfect storm of big problems and few solutions.
So how do agencies simultaneously single out offenders, combat violent crime and give officers a new way to be proactive? You do it with a technology-driven approach to policing.
Real-Time Crime Centers and remotely viewed cameras
Law enforcement agencies are beginning to realize the effectiveness of remotely keeping an eye on high crime locations. A single officer or civilian can effectively monitor multiple locations with a remotely viewed fixed or PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) camera and alert officers in the field to on-view offenses or potential situations that could result in a crime being committed.
This capability has given rise to a new type of police unit commonly referred to as a real-time crime center, or RTCC for short. The best way to think of an RTCC is to imagine a security monitoring center on steroids, with the purpose of being a centralized location for technology and criminal intelligence within a law enforcement agency.
A new and extremely effective tactic that agencies can use to combat violent crime is to dedicate field teams to technology response with a real-time analyst in the RTCC monitoring remotely viewed cameras in real-time. Rather than deploying large numbers of officers to known hot spots or high crime locations, instead, the agency deploys cameras to spot criminal activity and quickly address it before it can escalate into a violent offense. The advantage that this tactic has over traditional methods is quickly realized:
- Criminal offenders can be picked out of a group with extreme precision leaving the citizens and residents of the area untouched and undisturbed.
- Multiple locations can be locked down by a single individual in an RTCC for a fraction of the cost of traditional crime details.
- The locations can be easily monitored 24 hours a day by a small number of individuals, rather than deploying multiple officers over multiple shifts.
- Criminal acts that are caught on camera are tremendous pieces of evidence for a prosecution.
- Cameras can be utilized for reactive investigations, which can result in increased clearance rates due to investigative leads.
There are several technical and political challenges that a policing agency will face when choosing to start a police camera program, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Fixed ALPR cameras
While surveillance cameras are effective at monitoring locations and individuals, they fall short when it comes to developing leads on vehicles. The vast majority of crimes in America are committed by an offender that has access to a vehicle. Having the ability to surgically target these vehicles is simply an extension of targeting the individuals responsible for the majority of violent crime in our communities.
Seizing on the same technology-driven policing concepts of deploying surveillance cameras to a known hot spot, stationary ALPR cameras can be deployed to single out vehicles that are involved in criminal activity. Stolen vehicles, vehicles associated with individuals with felony warrants, or even vehicles used in recent violent offenses can all be targeted for proactive enforcement using this strategy.
There are several advantages to using this approach to combat violent crime over traditional methods:
- In the same way that surveillance cameras can pick out criminal offenders with precision, ALPR cameras do the same with vehicles. This allows an agency to dramatically improve the quality of traffic detentions while leaving the residents of the area untouched.
- Vehicles that are known to be associated with violent offenders can proactively be targeted as they enter the area, which can prevent potential offenses before they occur.
- By utilizing custom “hotlists,” agencies that are proactive at entering known vehicles associated with a violent crime can make apprehensions within a much shorter time frame than historical investigative methods.
- ALPR cameras build a searchable database of vehicles that are being driven for investigators to mine for potential leads on active criminal investigations.
- The information provided by ALPR cameras is simple to understand and explain to both citizens and prosecutors. It’s much easier for a citizen to understand that a vehicle was detained because it is flagged as stolen or recently used in a shooting, rather than officers having to build independent probable cause to stop a vehicle, which invites the perception of bias.
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Public/private camera partnerships
Law enforcement budgets and resources only go so far, and at some point, private businesses and citizens have to take steps to help close the gap.
Residential cameras have exploded in popularity over the past decade, which has resulted in astounding drops in burglary offenses nationwide, however, private businesses are still having difficulty getting both live streaming and video evidence of a crime into the hands of law enforcement. Enter the public/private camera program.
Successfully integrating privately owned cameras from businesses into a real-time crime center or other similar policing unit allows law enforcement to partner with their businesses in addition to increasing the ability to mitigate violent crime at these locations.
Many private businesses and apartments are paying other businesses to help monitor these locations for criminal behavior, but with the rise in popularity and capability of real-time crime centers within policing organizations, the ability to take video directly to law enforcement becomes a realistic scenario. There are multiple reasons why this approach benefits both law enforcement and private businesses:
- Businesses can cut costs by pushing their video directly to law enforcement, rather than relying on other businesses to monitor their property.
- Response times can be decreased by spotting criminal behavior at traditionally high crime locations that partner with their local law enforcement.
- Private cameras can fill gaps in law enforcement camera coverage resulting in better leads for investigators, especially in multi-housing developments and apartment buildings.
- Having direct access to private cameras significantly speeds up the investigative process for officers which can result in increased arrests.
- Individuals who know law enforcement has access to business cameras will be more hesitant to engage in criminal behavior due to the fact that police may be watching.
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By partnering with private businesses for camera access, deploying remotely viewed cameras in addition to ALPR cameras and proactively managing them in an RTCC, policing agencies can have a dramatic effect on violent crime. These new tools can fill the gap left by the withdrawal of officers in regard to proactive policing, while simultaneously making citizens in high crime areas feel safer from both criminals and police.
Technology, when used effectively and objectively, can provide law enforcement with a capability to combat violent crime that has never been seen in a time when it is needed most. What is your agency doing to combat violent crime?
NEXT: Listen to Sergeant Dalton Webb on the Policing Matters podcast discuss how a real-time crime center arms officers with information.
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