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It takes a village

How to leverage nontraditional resources to assist law enforcement operations


Most fire departments have an array of tools that can quickly cut glass, wood and metal.


How can you tell if an item has been made for cops? Answer: It is painted black, wrapped in Velcro and has the word “tactical” on it. There is some truth to this, as we sometimes overlook tools and their application simply because they are not the things we typically think of as law enforcement equipment.

Most law enforcement officers have been in a situation where everything is business as usual – until it isn’t. Sometimes we find ourselves on a call where a certain tool would be helpful, but we just don’t have it. We don’t have time to order and train with it and, even if we did, we can’t justify purchasing it for the department due to the expense or infrequency of usage or both.

Fear not. Unique incidents can be resolved by unique tactics. Don’t be afraid to be creative and use the rapport you have with folks who work in other city and county agencies in your area. Make time to visit them. You might find valuable resources to assist you.

Let’s look at where we might find such equipment within our own cities and counties.

Fire Departments

The fire department is probably our closest sister agency. We share an almost sibling rivalry with our firefighter brothers and sisters. We joke and tease with them on occasion, but they are usually the first ones we call when we need help. Here are three pieces of firefighting equipment that could be valuable for certain situations:

FLIR: Most of us are familiar with the FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) thermal imaging device affixed to many police helicopters. Did you know that FLIR devices are also available in handheld sizes ranging from a spotlight to a cell phone? These small handheld units are often used to assist firefighters in locating “hot spots,” as well as finding and rescuing firefighters in the smoke and haze of a fire scene. On occasion these handheld units could assist law enforcement in locating people and vehicles that are lost, missing or attempting to evade apprehension in a large unlit area at night or during inclement weather.

Aerial trucks: It’s sometimes helpful for officers to get above street level in order to survey the landscape. When you need to get higher than one or two stories, your best bet may be an aerial truck. These ladder trucks are capable of rapidly extending 50 or more feet into the air. This can be helpful when surveying large open areas such as parking lots or sports stadiums, as well as getting you high enough to look over a crowded area and see the objects below, such as in an orchard or corn field.

Entry tools/Jaws of Life: Hand entry tools and pry bars may be things your agency doesn’t use all that often, but when you need them you need to have access to quality tools. Most fire departments have an array of pry bars and breaching tools (“Halligan tool”) that can breach glass, wood and metal. Metal bars, pipes, chains and locks are best breached with a hydraulic tool such as the Hurst Rescue Tool or Jaws of Life. Like the FLIR, these tools have also become miniaturized and can be found in rechargeable battery versions.

Electricity Departments

Bucket trucks: Requiring less room and a lot less conspicuous than a fire department aerial truck, an electricity department bucket truck can provide a stable platform that can rise up to about 30 feet. This is ideal to give a bird’s eye view from which to photograph and diagram a traffic accident scene or look for evidence and debris that has been scattered over a large open area. In addition, most electricians and bucket trucks are so common that they go completely unnoticed and can quickly install or takedown pole camera surveillance equipment.

Gas Department

Ground penetrating radar: Gas departments, like many underground utilities, often use a ground penetrating radar (GPR) device to locate underground utility lines before digging. This prevents accidental damage to any existing utility lines. The GPR is able to produce an image showing sections of disturbed soil beneath the ground level and what might be buried. Law enforcement could apply a GPR to assist in locating buried evidence.

Local College/University

Archeology/anthropology classes: You have information that a crime scene and related evidence is buried at a specific location. We were able to use the GPR and we believe we have found the items a few feet underground. What’s the best way to retrieve the items? How can we ensure the integrity of the evidence? Scientifically excavating, collecting and recording buried artifacts are the mainstay of most archeology and anthropology programs. Reach out to the department chair at your local college and explore the possibility of getting assistance from these subject matter experts and their students for incidents involving buried evidence and crime scenes.

Water Department

Inspection cameras: In order to build and maintain water and sewer lines, many utilities use inspection cameras that can travel inside of the pipes so that technicians can see any cracks, breaks or blockages. Law enforcement could apply these cameras when needed in an emergency to locate and help rescue persons from confined spaces such as caves, wells and collapsed structures.

Engineer/Surveyor’s Office

Digital imaging: In the 1990s, law enforcement began using surveyor tools such as the electronic “total station” to assist in the accurate and to scale measurement of mapping and diagramming both accident and crime scenes. Today, these systems have advanced and can provide laser 3D imaging and modeling. The result is an immersive 3D image from which the user can look at the scene from many different points of view and angles, as well as accurately measure the distance between any two points in the scanned scene.

Sanitation/Street Department

Access control: It’s time for your town’s annual parade or street party. Your department has to block off a section of streets and intersections and keep out vehicle traffic for the safety of pedestrians. Wooden sawhorses are easily moved or just driven over and concrete “Jersey” barriers are not practical. Is there another alternative? Consider the heavy dump trucks, trash collection trucks, traffic cones and striped road construction barrels in your sanitation and street departments. The trucks can be quickly parked in streets and intersections with a line of construction barrels on the side facing on-coming traffic and each corner spotted with a tall traffic cone. This will effectively block vehicle traffic, but still safely allow pedestrians to enter and exit the area. The trucks and barriers can then be removed just as quickly at the conclusion of the event.


A law enforcement response to an incident may require the use of equipment the department does not own or is not typically used by law enforcement agencies. By keeping the lines of communication open with other city and county agencies, officers may be able to access specialized equipment to resolve an unusual occurrence. The items mentioned in this article are from the author’s personal experiences. This is by no means a complete list and you should use your creativity to seek out specialized resources available to you and your department.

Lt. Mike Walker is a 29-year veteran of local and federal law enforcement. He has served in a variety of assignments with a concentration in investigative work. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and is a graduate of the 247th Session of the FBI National Academy.