After Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot his ex-girlfriend and posted an online death threat against police, Maryland investigators used cellphone tracking technology to follow his travels to New York City in real time. When it came to giving the New York Police Department specifics about Brinsley, reports the Associated Press, the means were markedly low-tech: a phone call and a wanted flier sent by fax. That warning came too late, sent a mere two minutes before Brinsley walked up to a patrol car and shot two officers dead without warning. Police on both ends say they took immediate measures to alert officers about an armed and dangerous fugitive bent on violence against law enforcement. The seemingly antiquated way they did it has raised questions about the potential for communication lapses to hamper urgent manhunts.
New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton called it “an irony” the ambush occurred a time when the NYPD has launched a $160 million program to equip each member of the 35,000-officer force with a department-issued computer tablet or smartphone to improve information-sharing. Police departments in New York, Los Angeles, Denver and elsewhere mostly rely on dispatchers to make radio transmissions giving descriptions of suspects or fliers copied and faxed with mug shots passed out at roll calls. Smaller forces have gone to blasting notifications to department-issued smartphones, but most larger ones say to do the same would be too expensive. With the new system, if the nation’s largest police department were to receive a mug shot of a suspect, “we could instantly send that picture and information to every cop on their post no matter where they were,” Bratton said.