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How tech can help cities reduce crime

Jen A. Miller | April 10, 2014
Camden, N.J. ranks among the United States' most dangerous cities -- and in 2011, its police force was cut in half. However, a state-of-the-art 'tactical information' center, combined with gunshot-spotting cameras, in-cruiser GPS technology and analytics are helping the embattled city cut crime.

According to the FBI, Camden, N.J. is the most dangerous city in America with more than 75,000 residents.

That said, Camden has made strides in reducing crime by using a multi-faceted technological approach to policing through what's known as the Real Time Tactical Information Center, a $4.5 million endeavor. Since 2011, when the system was first implemented, violent crimes have dropped 30 percent, and non-violent crimes have dropped 38 percent. Aggravated assaults with a firearm are also down 61 percent in that same time period.

Camden County Police Chief Scott J. Thomson calls it a "significant departure from policing" in that it moves both toward the future and the past.

"With our boots-on-the-ground goals, it's like 1840s policing of having cop building relationships," he says. "What's allowed them to do that is having bleeding-edge technology. It's back to the future technology."

Faster 911 Response Times, Access to Vehicle Information

Camden started building the Real Time Tactical Information Center from scratch using a variety of IT vendors (whose names are confidential) and an in-house IT person. Camden is now on the seventh iteration of the system, which runs online with a data center in department headquarters with a offsite disaster-proof backup location.

"All of this runs off a language none of us [police officers] speak," Thomson says. Having everything merged into one platform not only helps the department constantly update and improve the system, he adds; it also makes addressing any software issues much faster.

The system has drastically cut emergency response times by removing the police dispatcher. Instead, because cars are GPS-tracked through an Automated Vehicle Locator System, the system automatically locates the two nearest patrol cars to an emergency and directs them via in-car computers to that location. Nationally, the typical time from someone calling 911 to emergency response arriving on the scene is nine minutes, Thomson says. In Camden, it's now 90 seconds.

In addition, the system includes 120 cameras, positioned around the nine-square-mile city, which can all be moved on command. Feeds that update every 1.5 seconds from those cameras are shown on televisions in the Real Time Tactical Information Center. On their computer screens, officers can see where the cameras are pointing, as indicated by a green cone. These cones are overlaid onto the map nothing where officers are located and where emergencies are happening at any given moment.

Officer squad cars are also equipped with cameras that can take photographs of over a dozen cars a second. "We look for stolen cars, suspended registrations, partial characters of vehicles that were involved in crimes," Thomson says. Officers also compare those license plates against the FBI's National Crime Information Center, the state of N.J.'s crime information database and their own city database to determine which of those vehicles or drivers need to be questioned.


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