Real Time Crime-Fighting Centers Spread to Smaller Cities
The facilities allow police officers to leverage security cameras, gunshot detection and other technology to quickly, and more safely, apprehend suspects.
HARTFORD, CONN. – Real time crime centers that provide police officers with information to quickly locate and apprehend suspects are popping up in smaller cities across the nation. Several have opened in the past year, including facilities in Hartford, Conn., Wilmington, Del., and Springfield, Mass. Others are being erected in Bridgeport, Conn., Modesto, Calif., and Wilmington, N.C., according to The Associated Press.
The news agency visited Hartford’s crime-fighting facility, housed in the city’s old police department, where officers view a wall of flat-screen monitors while computers take in data from license plate readers and a gunshot detection system.
Although open only a few months, the Hartford Police Department’s new Real-Time Crime and Data Intelligence Center has assisted officers in hundreds of criminal cases that have resulted in arrests, Sgt. Johnmichael O’Hare, who leads the operation, told AP.
“It’s huge,” he said about the new capabilities. “It provides them real-time intelligence.”
New York City opened the first-of-its-kind Real Time Crime Center in 2005, and other large cities followed suit. Now smaller cities are opening their own centers.
Staff members at the centers are able to monitor surveillance video and tell officers at crime scenes about suspects’ movements. They enter names into criminal and private company databases and relay virtual dossiers on people to police. They also tap into surveillance cameras at schools and businesses – after getting permission in a process agreed upon beforehand – to help police respond to active shooters and other crimes. Much of the information, including video feeds, is sent to officers’ cellphones.
The centers reflect law enforcement’s growing reliance on technology, which in turn has raised some privacy concerns from civil liberties advocates. Many cities are using federal grants and drug forfeiture money to help pay for the centers, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up.
The American Civil Liberties Union says there is a lack of general rules to limit privacy invasions and abuse of surveillance technology by police. The ACLU also is concerned about how long police departments retain camera footage and other surveillance data.
“The public really needs to be consulted and there needs to be a debate,” David McGuire, legislative and policy director of the ACLU of Connecticut, told AP.
In December, the ACLU of Northern California criticized Fresno police for using social media surveillance software without the public’s consent. One software program, the ACLU said, suggested identifying potential threats to public safety by tracking hashtags related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Another program assigned “threat levels” to residents, the ACLU said.
Police told The Fresno Bee newspaper that they were only testing the software during free trials for possible use against violent crime and terrorism, and were not tracking Black Lives Matter on social media.
Civil liberties advocates also have concerns about airports and how many police departments are now using facial recognition software to track and identify people, saying such software is known for mistakes.
The Hartford center doesn’t use facial recognition, but officials say that could come in the future.
Police Chief James Rovella told AP that city authorities are dedicated to respecting people’s civil rights.
On a recent day, a crime analyst at the Hartford center reviewed surveillance video of a man firing a gun at someone in a playground, then running into a nearby house. The house’s address was visible, and she did a computer search on whether anyone in the house had a criminal record. The search came back with a booking photo of the shooting suspect, and he was later arrested, police said.
“It’s such a great asset having everybody under one roof,” said O’Hare. “It’s all about transfer of information.”
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