‘Real Time’ Crime Centers: The Future of Crime Fighting?

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Photo by Yuri Kimura via Flickr

In Memphis, on an early Friday morning, a man entered the Hilton Garden Inn and fired shots at the security guard before fleeing on foot. After the shots were fired, the midnight shift officers at the Memphis Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center – the hub of an extensive citywide surveillance camera network – jumped into action.

They were quickly able to direct officers on the suspect’s escape route because of the Real Time Crime technology, reports Carol Robinson from AL.com.

In Robinson’s interview with the Memphis Police Lt. Byron Braxton, he said, “We can start working a scene before the first officer even gets on the scene,’’

Soon after the Memphis shooting, surveillance photos of the suspect were posted to social media. A few hours later, the 26-year-old shooter was in custody.

Robinson describes the arrest as a textbook example of the value of a Real Time Crime Center, which Memphis launched more than a decade ago.

Now, the Birmingham Police Department is following this new technology trend, pending approval of $1.5 million in the City of Birmingham’s capital budget proposed by Mayor Randall Woodfin.

Birmingham’s new state-of-the art facility will be modeled after other Real Time Crime Centers their police visited in Chicago, Detroit, and New York City.

“What we’re trying to do is build a system here for public safety in the future,” said Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith.

Birmingham Assistant Police Chief Allen Treadaway said the potential for growth is unlimited. “The more eyes out there, the safer the city is going to be,’’ he reported.

Last year, after Birmingham’s Police Department visited other cities’ facilities, Robinson reports that the Birmingham City Council approved entering into a contract with Alabama Power for a pilot program set to install 95 surveillance cameras in areas designated by the police department based on crime trends.

Treadaway told AL.com that when he visited Chicago’s Crime Center, he watched through their camera system as a patrol car was dispatched to a scene where drug deals were taking place.

“Before the cops arrived, one of the individuals moved his gun to another individual who then hid it by a garbage can,’’ he reported to Robinson. “They (the crime center) were watching it and when the officers arrived on the scene, they knew exactly where the gun was.”

Smith disclosed he doesn’t yet know how many of the cameras will be placed throughout the city. Chicago, he said, has about 35,000 cameras. Memphis has about 2,100 cameras in 650 locations, according to AL.com.

The cameras will work in conjunction with the city’s expanded ShotSpotter system.

The Effect of Gun Violence on Local Economies Urban Institute found in a study that 80 percent of gunshot incidents are never reported to 911. ShotSpotter is working to change that.

Through using an array of outdoor acoustic sensors, ShotSpotters triangulate and pinpoint the location of audible gunfire through high-tech software. “That software will then notify local law enforcement on the location of the gunfire, number of shots fired, and other details all within 60 seconds,” according to their website.

Robinson notes that the intelligence-led command center will be housed on the fourth floor of Birmingham Police Headquarters, fully equipped with a wall-sized bank of video screens, computers and other technology.

This new technology will provide immediate video or photos of crime suspects and their vehicles and license plates to police officers.

Birmingham police officials are also looking at installing new license plate readers.

Automated license plate readers (ALPRs) are “high-speed, computer-controlled camera systems that are typically mounted on utility poles, streetlights, highway overpasses, mobile trailers, or attached to squad cars. ALPRs capture all license plate numbers that come into view, along with the location, date, and time. The data, which includes photographs of the vehicle and sometimes its driver and passengers, is then uploaded to a central server.”

ALPR venders say that the information collected can be used by police to find out where a plate has been in the past, to determine whether a vehicle was at the scene of a crime, to identify travel patterns, and even to discover vehicles that may be associated with each other.

Robinson believes the city is at least a year away from making their own Real Crime Center a reality. In all, Smith said, roughly $3 million is needed to get fully up and running.

He also hopes another $1.5 million will be added to next year’s budget. “As businesses and neighborhood associations come on board,’’ he said, “the system will pay for itself in reduction of crime.”

Memphis Police Deputy Chief Don Crowe told AL.com that he has a mantra for Memphis as this new system becomes a reality: “No one should have to call us to tell us something is happening. We should already know it.”

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Andrea Cipriano.

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