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Iowa LE agencies use recording devices, gunshot detection, mental health app to enhance public safety

An LVM Systems mental health screening app was installed on every officer’s phone to help assess a person’s behavior and provide logs of past incidents with subjects who’ve had repeat contact with police

Technology utilized by local law enforcement agencies make policing safer, more efficient

For the Mason City Police Department and the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Office , the implementation of both new and not-so-new technologies has lent itself to not only a more efficient workflow, but to enhanced public safety as well.

Mason City Police Department

By Lisa Grouette
Globe Gazette, Mason City, Iowa

MASON CITY, Iowa — From patrolling to processing crime scenes, as technology in the field of law enforcement continues to advance, local agencies have embraced those advancements and integrated them into their daily routine.

For the Mason City Police Department and the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s Office, the implementation of both new and not-so-new technologies has lent itself to not only a more efficient workflow, but to enhanced public safety as well.

Recording devices

Since 2022 and 2017, the MCPD and sheriff’s office have utilized their current body camera and audio recorder systems. Dash cams are also in use in every deputy and police vehicle. While not new to the world of law enforcement in general, the recording devices have proved themselves invaluable to officers and deputies in the field, as well as providing footage for prosecutors to help convict criminals.

In July 2022, the MCPD began utilizing Getac, a mobile video integration system, allowing officers to see video streaming from multiple cameras at once.

“We can put multiple screens on in our current Getac system,” Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley said. “The officer’s (body) camera, their car front — 160 degrees or whatever the camera catches — their back seat, and any other cameras we would have on the car, all in one screen.”

According to Brinkley, the system helps ensure accuracy in incident reports filed by officers after responding to a scene. “Our officers review a lot of the video before they do their reports now, just to be certain they’re right,” Brinkley said. “That what they’re writing is how they remembered it, and that [the incident] was how it worked out.”

Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin Pals said the Getac system used by the MCPD is not yet utilized by the sheriff’s office, but is something the office is working toward implementing.

While the systems each agency uses vary, both Pals and Brinkley say the footage captured by audio and video recording systems are a boon for documenting incidents for public record.

The MCPD was able to stave off litigation by a disgruntled resident who had an encounter with an officer. Evidence from the officer’s audio recorder cleared the department of wrongdoing.

“We were named in a civil suit two years ago and we were like, ‘We didn’t do anything wrong,’” Brinkley recalled. “I called the attorney and I was like, ‘I’ve got the officer’s report and the officer wore his body mic.’ You can hear the entire conversation, and I said, ‘Hey, I can tell you exactly what happened.’”

Brinkley said the suit was dropped within a few days of being filed.

The sheriff’s office doesn’t receive many complaints against its deputies, but the ones that have risen were quickly discounted.

“We don’t have any valid officer complaints yet, because the camera’s showing that the officer didn’t do what they were accused of doing,” Pals said.

In another instances, heroic measures have also been captured by body cams. Brinkley said such recordings are great for highlighting the work of officers in the field and also training officers, using the video to illustrate quick thinking and appropriate procedural tactics on the scene.

He pointed to an incident in which officers responded to the call of a Mason City farmer whose tractor overturned, pinning him underneath.

Officers Jim Redeker and Josh Madole and sergeants Ben VanDenBroeke and Terrance Prochaska were recognized with Mason City Life Saving Awards for their role in saving the life of Joey Shearman. They lifted the tractor off of Shearman as two bystanders, Merle and Kelly Brockshus, assisted in pulling the man from under the farm vehicle.

Pals said the use of cameras equally protects individuals involved with law enforcement should questions arise about the way incidents were handled.

“It keeps us (law enforcement) honest, too,” said Pals.

Pals said since 2018, his deputies also use cellphone app called Ops, which allows responding officers to take photos in the field and immediately upload them to the incident’s case file. The system allows for a smoother workflow, as deputies no longer have to carry camera equipment or spend time transferring images from a memory card to a computer.

Gunshot detection

Another tool acquired by the Mason City police force is a gunshot detection system. Running on solar energy, the system alerts law enforcement when a gunshot is detected within city limits. Brinkley said the system has receivers all across town, and not only pinpoints a gunshot’s origin, but detects the gun’s caliber. The system was installed in the wake of a number of gun-related crimes.

"[With the city’s] uptick — in ’21, ’22 — with the shootings, this was just a natural decision. We needed to do something,” Brinkley said.

The detectors are just one component of a multifaceted system the department will utilize to mitigate gun violence in Mason City, with particular attention paid to the downtown area.

A series of cameras, device detectors, and license plate readers have been acquired to help solve — and Brinkley hopes, deter — violent crimes.

“A lot of it is focused over downtown. Where we have regular tourism (we’ll have) regular videos just to provide an extra level of security and an investigative resource for us in the event something happens,” Brinkley said.

The device detectors and license plate readers do not provide real-time information on any citizen, but will be used when reviewing crime scenes. Device detectors will provide a device ID, but no personal information can be gleaned from the system. The detectors will only indicate that a person with a cellphone or tablet was in the area. Because many people carry some type of device, the tool can help police determine whether a human was present at the time a call came in. Officers can more easily discern if an alarm system was tripped by a person or a glitch, or if there were possible witnesses to a given crime scene.

Similarly, Brinkley said, the license plate readers will not be used to gather real-time personal data. They only will be used as a research tool during investigations. The data may indicate any vehicles in the vicinity of a crime whose drivers may serve as a witness to goings on, or they could indicate whether a particular car was near a scene, should a witness come forward with a description or partial plate number.

Home security systems

Pals and Brinkley both expressed appreciation for residents using home security systems. The availability of affordable home cameras like Ring, which offers do-it-yourself installation, has led to more citizens ramping up home security efforts. The cameras deter would-be criminals, and footage from the cameras can be used to investigate crimes.

According to Pals and Brinkley, the more residents who have cameras, the better.

“We encourage everyone to have home cameras,” Pals said. “I know recently, in the last couple of months, there’s been some cases solved from home video.”

Mental health

Early in 2023, the MCPD incorporated an emerging technology as a way to help de-escalate situations in which an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis.

An LVM Systems mental health screening app was installed on every officer’s phone to help assess a person’s behavior and provide logs of past incidents with subjects who’ve had repeat contact with police, allowing officers to see notes and previous condition reports on the person.

Brinkley said the app is used widely in Canada, but Iowa is only one of two states in the U.S. currently using it.

The app helps determine whether it is safe for an individual to be left by themselves, or if they need medical attention. Information about the individual’s state of mind, behavior, and contributing factors such as drug or alcohol use is entered into the app. An assessment is made by the software and a score is calculated based on those factors, informing an officer’s decision on how to handle the situation.

“The LVM is kind of to affirm for the officer that they’re making the right decision,” Brinkley said. “We’re assessing: Are they a danger to themselves or others? And what’s their ability to care for themselves?”

Should a subject need transport, the officer can notify local health centers through the app so a provider is able to immediately receive the person for care.

While a subject’s safety is the top priority, Brinkley said, the app provides other benefits. The assessment tool has helped reduce the number of people arrested, because police know when it’s a mental health crisis as opposed to a disturbance.


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