Inside Albuquerque’s Real-Time Crime Center

By Paul Clinton

The sworn officers who assist civilian dispatchers and analysts in the Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) new Real-Time Crime Center (RTCC) typically rotate into the assignment after they’ve been placed on injured, restricted or light duty.

While this special assignment is earned more out of necessity rather than choice—it’s not sought after like SWAT, K-9 or motor patrol—working in the center carries a weighty responsibility. Officers must provide detailed, possibly life-saving, information to the patrol officers in the field.

The RTCC opened March 1 in the renovated wing of the APD’s downtown station. City bonds and federal grants covered its $800,000 price tag. It features a bank of 16 television screens, including a 90-inch monitor, and eight work stations. The center is staffed by four civilian crime analysts, two civilian video production workers, a video intelligence sergeant, live operations sergeant, and a detective.

Twelve sworn officers work in “the bridge,” the nickname given to the area clustered with monitors. They monitor calls for service, provide real-time intelligence to field officers, and search law enforcement databases.

Albuquerque’s RTCC joined 16 other so-called “smart policing” centers that are reinventing the traditional law enforcement call center, or public safety answering point (PSAP). Others have opened in Chicago, Houston, New York City and Memphis, Tenn.

Like the others, the RTCC pipes in video from a municipal traffic cameras around the city. The 109 cameras on that private sector network capture footage 24 hours continuously, rewriting older footage with network video recorders. Integrator Sandia Lightwave installed mostly OpenEye software and equipment, RTCC Manager T.J. Wilham tells POLICE Magazine, SSI‘s sister publication.

The decision to destroy surveillance footage older than 24 hours may seem like a curious one. Why get rid of potentially valuable video data that could help solve cases? The move appears to be an olive branch to civil libertarians who have said the department’s approach raises red flags that “Big Brother” is watching.

Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said his group worries about the center’s ability to monitor citizens.

“The department has created a system that has the potential to collect massive amounts of data and establish patterns of activity that the police might take as suspicious, but that are in fact activity that is perfectly law abiding,” Simonson told the Albuquerque Journal.

Wilham responds that the center doesn’t monitor citizens, but rather provides intelligence to crime fighters.

In addition to the municipal camera network, popular New Mexico fast-food chain Blake’s Lotaburger has agreed to turn over their cameras at 83 locations during a critical incident or crime in progress.

To improve field intelligence, RTCC managers assigned patrol officers in the higher-crime southeast section of the city with a special iPhone equipped with a Zco app that connects with a MorphoTrack fingerprint reader. The app connects to a local APD database of more than 200,000 photos that can be searched for a facial-recognition match.

With the RTCC, Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz created the Smart Policing Division to support patrol officers.

“He wanted to give officers real time information to give them the information they need,” Wilham said. “We will know if a person we come into contact with has a history of mental illness, if a person living at a residence has a warrant, and where the ankle bracelets are.”

Paul Clinton is Web editor for POLICE Magazine.

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