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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.

'Shot Spotter' Locates Gunshots Before Officers Arrive on Scene
A major part of the Real Time Tactical Information Center is a system called the Shot Spotter — a series of 35 microphones placed in two-thirds of the city, with the final third to be linked soon.

"Thirty percent of all gunshots were never reported," Thomson says. "People became so desensitized to the sounds of gunshots that they stopped calling the police."

Now, when a shot is fired, a few things happen. First, the system triangulates the location of the shot or shots with an exactness of nine feet. The location is then marked on Google Maps. Next, officers within the Real Time Tactical Information Center receive a recording of the gunshots; they can listen to determine how many shots were fired, how many guns were involved and even what types of guns were shot. Finally, officers can move their cameras to that location to visualize the situation before patrol cars arrive.

In one recent case, Shot Spotter picked up two gunshots. Officers listened to the recording and heard two shots from what sounded like the same gun. The Shot Spotter triangulated the location to one house. When officers arrived on the scene and saw no one in the street, and no indication that someone had fled the scene or that anyone had been injured there, they left — but an unmarked police car parked down the street from that house. Fifteen minutes later, the officer intercepted a 16-year-old who exited the house carrying a high-powered rifle with a scope.

In another case, a man took multiple hostages in a house. Officers in the Real Time Tactical Information Center saw on their map - through GPS and before the SWAT team moved in — that squad cars were positioned in an exterior and interior perimeter around the scene. Then they were able to watch the SWAT team apprehend the man, who surrendered immediately.

Improving Efficiency by Monitoring Officers, Adding Observations
The Real Time Tactical Information Center also keeps data on officers, with the goal of making their patrols more efficient. The system tracks whether officers spend enough time in predetermined patrol areas and how long officers stay in one location before moving on to another area. (Green areas are well-patrolled, red areas are not and yellow areas fall in the middle.)

The goal, Thomson says, is to make each patrol stop last between 11 and 15 minutes: "Within 15 minutes, you know if you need to be there or not."

Captains review their data in weekly meetings that also add about information collected from the field. While the Real Time Tactical Information System is a powerful tool, Thomson says, it "tells one story, but it doesn't tell the whole story."


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