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A day in the life of a real-time information center analyst

Meet Andrea Cortez, a 17-year law enforcement veteran and analyst at Elk Grove (Calif.) Police Department’s Real-Time Information Center

In today’s fast-paced world, the role of technology in law enforcement has become increasingly pivotal. At the heart of this technological evolution lies the real-time information center, a hub that leverages cutting-edge tools to aid police departments in their relentless pursuit of safety and justice.

I sat down with Andrea Cortez, Real-Time Information Center analyst at Elk Grove Police Department in California, to get an exclusive peek behind the curtain of her daily endeavors. Throughout the interview, Cortez sheds light on her critical responsibilities, from monitoring live surveillance feeds to analyzing vast amounts of data, all aimed at preventing crime and ensuring community safety.

She also delves into the sophisticated technology that powers the center, illustrating how it serves as the backbone for their operations. Furthermore, Cortez discusses the significant impact these centers have on curbing crime and elaborates on why a career in real-time crime centers presents a fulfilling opportunity for those passionate about marrying technology with law enforcement to make a tangible difference in society.

[TECH PULSE IN FOCUS: Police1 talks with Andrea Cortez about Elk Grove’s Real-Time Information Center]

What do your primary day-to-day responsibilities look like?

In the role of an analyst at the Real-Time Information Center, the primary responsibility is to tactically support operations and conduct analysis. Our center is unique, as not all real-time information centers are identical. My duties encompass significant project management and oversight of large-scale initiatives, such as compiling the annual report or devising the strategic plan. These tasks often carry an administrative component.

While my daily tasks may differ from the norm, our team remains actively engaged in operational responses. For instance, if an incident unfolds at the end of a patrol shift, our personnel manage surveillance systems, updating both patrol units and dispatchers. Analysts then commence an in-depth investigation into the situation, whether it involves a particular residence or vehicle, gathering all pertinent information to aid in the developing scenario and providing the most relevant data based on the service call at hand.

We sift through this information to deliver what we consider immediately relevant to the situation.

The center encompasses operations, communications, intelligence, and analysis components, offering a variety of roles and responsibilities for analysts. Depending on the day, my focus may shift significantly. One day, I might primarily engage with intelligence work, such as monitoring social media to gather details on an upcoming car meet, identifying key participants, and predicting potential locations they might relocate to if they become aware of law enforcement’s knowledge of their initial gathering spot.

On another day, my attention may turn to analysis and data management, evaluating our National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) statistics to identify and correct any significant errors or perform quality control measures. This multifaceted approach highlights the diverse and dynamic nature of the analyst’s role within the center.

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What type of technology tools do you use regularly in your role, and how do they enhance your capabilities in crime analysis and prevention?

The primary tools we utilize for operations include our camera networks and the Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) system. We currently employ Flock, which is integral to our use of cameras in conjunction with license plate readers. These tools are essential for conducting investigations, both retrospectively and in real-time, such as locating a stolen vehicle for analysis. For data gathering and analysis, we use Power BI to compile our data and create informative dashboards.

Flock has significantly transformed our operational capabilities. Its custom hot list feature, in particular, has proven highly effective. This functionality allows us to immediately add a license plate to our watch list during live incidents. Consequently, if we obtain a plate number in real time, we can add it to our custom hot list and quickly locate the vehicle we’re searching for through alerts from our camera network.

How do you collaborate with law enforcement agencies?

We successfully locate stolen vehicles approximately twice a week. When an alert is triggered, our dispatch team promptly verifies the accuracy of the hit to confirm the vehicle’s identity and its outstanding status. Simultaneously, we begin accessing camera feeds. One operator might review footage at the first intersection to determine if the vehicle diverged from its expected path or avoided following the traffic flow. Meanwhile, an analyst or specialist might advance to subsequent cameras to check if the vehicle has already passed that point.

In instances involving alerts for felony or stolen vehicles, we collaborate closely if we’re available to assist, focusing our efforts on addressing the situation. We provide patrol units with precise lane information and direct them toward the exact location of the vehicle in question. This precision significantly enhances the officers’ response and approach, including the direction the vehicle is facing.

While I might not always be able to specify the exact path taken by a suspect or vehicle, I can effectively narrow down the search area by indicating where they did not go — for instance, confirming that they did not head south within a given timeframe. This strategy considerably tightens the scope of the search, enabling officers to target their efforts more effectively and increasing their chances of success in locating the person or vehicle they are pursuing.

Can you provide an example of a successful collaboration with law enforcement?

In a recent incident involving a weapons disturbance call, we received a report of an individual allegedly brandishing a handgun in a retail parking lot. Quickly accessing the surveillance cameras, we zoomed in on the store’s entrance where the subject was reported to be standing.

We identified someone matching the description and observed closely, realizing the object in question appeared to be a hairbrush, not a weapon, as he walked into a clearer view and began brushing his hair. This observation, combined with dispatch communication, allowed us to update the responding officers.

This incident underscores the value of having real-time visual verification, providing essential clarity to officers en route to a scene. It exemplifies how critical information can de-escalate a situation before law enforcement arrives.

Another instance involved a robbery call, where we were able to find the suspect car within minutes of the call coming into dispatch. We were able to follow the car on a recorded view as it traveled through the city, directing officers to its likely location — leading to the discovery of additional evidence. In approximately 40 minutes, we were able to identify a license plate and connect that vehicle to several other robberies in the region.

These examples highlight the transformative impact of real-time collaboration between patrol operations and analytics on the speed and efficacy of criminal identification and apprehension. This approach significantly accelerates the investigative process, bypassing the traditional delays associated with retrieving and analyzing business surveillance footage, and marks a substantial advancement in law enforcement capabilities.

Let’s look five years ahead. What do you think will change technology-wise in real-time crime centers?

I anticipate continuous improvements in technology, such as enhanced camera quality and more powerful zoom capabilities. Additionally, the use of drones could become more widespread in law enforcement, depending on the stance of local police departments and city councils. These drones would likely be integrated into the operations of real-time information centers, acting as an extension of the existing camera network. I envision that the software powering these technologies will become more refined and sophisticated, enabling us to respond to incidents more effectively and develop intelligence on situations more rapidly.

Furthermore, the future seems promising for the integration of various technologies. For instance, drone platforms might have the capability to connect with Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems or Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems. This integration would streamline operations within our camera infrastructure, eliminating the need to switch between different screens or tabs. The goal is to simplify the workflow for operators in real-time crime centers, making their tasks more manageable. This evolving technology represents an exciting development for those of us working in the real-time information center arena.

What advice would you give to someone who’s aspiring to enter your field of work?

Engage with professionals working in real-time centers, embrace technology and strive to fully understand it to maximize its effectiveness.

Flexibility stands out as the most crucial attribute for roles within real-time crime centers, given the rapid progression of technology. It’s essential to adapt, welcome changes and innovate to leverage new developments for the benefit of your center.

Networking also plays a pivotal role. The National Real Time Crime Center Association serves as an invaluable resource. Connect with experienced professionals in the field to gain insights into the various technology platforms and understand the skills necessary to thrive in this evolving landscape.

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Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com, is the senior editor of Police1.com and Corrections1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.
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