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Top agencies utilize state-of-the-art technology

Technology keeps changing, and so must public safety agencies in order to keep up with it.

Today’s officers have access to state-of-the-art technology to do their jobs. Following is a look at some of the latest technology police departments across the country are using to keep us safer.



The Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) CLEARpath site offers the community a means to share important information, find the latest news, programs and community oriented services the department offers. Since the inception of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), the partnership between the department and the community has proved overwhelmingly positive as they share responsibility to keep Chicago’s neighborhoods safe. With continued community involvement, this approach to joint problem solving will continue to be an effective tool to fight crime throughout the city.

To continue to provide resources that help the department connect with the community, the CPD’s CLEARpath Web site offers various online resources that help community members learn more about their Districts, Beat Meetings and Events, learn how to protect themselves against crime, report crime anonymously, get reports, and chat with the Department.

Citizens can sign up to become registered CLEARpath users by registering for an account. Benefits include: access to online services provided by the Chicago Police Department; receiving alert messages via e-mail, phone or text messaging; registering your security camera system with the ChicagoPlan!; interacting with Superintendent Jody Weis on Blog501 where Weis will post his thoughts, ideas and comments regularly. Most importantly, department members can join in the discussion and share their perspectives.

Chicago Police have invested in collecting data, comparing data, and in doing so, taking data to the next level—using it to efficiently target crime and deploy personnel in a much more effective way than ever before.

“Operationally, we look at all crime data—calls for service, alarms, everything—and we create a description of the most likely spots where crime and violence will take place,” said Brett Goldstein, director, Predictive Analytics Group, Chicago Police Department.

The key is knowing where to send a mobile strike force for optimum results. A highly forward-looking ability to target makes the best use of Chicago Police resources, Goldstein indicated.

What they are doing in Chicago is using their computers to target these areas and distribute their workforce accordingly, and specifically. “We use four-block areas as target spots,” Goldstein said. “We use an Oracle data warehouse and in it, basically, data is assigned to points on a map. With the help and expertise of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), we run algorithms that decipher these data points and create values for them. From there, our Fusion Center sends out e-mails with end-data to those commanders and personnel who are on a mission-specific need-to-know protocol.”

CPD’s Predictive Analytics Group and its partners at the IIT are using computerized mesh algorithms to analyze patterns of crime in Chicago. The mesh describes crime at the greatest level of detail in areas where crime rates are highest, allowing them to focus attention on areas that need it most, and where the most data are available.

The CPD task forces involved meet daily and work out where to distribute their officers for each coming night. Like a battle plan, they use technology to help set their specific strategy.

“The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) gave Chicago Police a grant more than a year ago,” Goldstein explained. The Predictive Analytics Group and its Fusion Center have been in operation since May. The result is that the targets are more focused. “We develop a good target package every day and the crime stats are positive,” Goldstein noted.

“The Chicago Police Department has applied for an extension to continue the partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology,” he added. “Today, at the Chicago Police department, we are using data smarter.” he summed up Vendors include: Oracle for the Data Warehouse; ESRI for Geospatial Tools; Red Hat for OS for algorithm; and SPSS for Stats. The rest is “home grown,” according to Lieutenant. Maureen C. Biggane, commanding officer, Chicago Police News Affairs.


NYPD technology supports 53,000 uniformed and civilian members of the department who require 4,000,000 transactions and thousands of queries annually for investigative work. NYPD provided the tools (software, laptops, handhelds) and upgraded the infrastructure (servers, network) to provide these services to thousands of MOS concurrently.

These constantly evolving computing needs are met by OIT, the parent command for both Management Information Systems (MISD) and Communications Divisions. NYPD has 340 MISD personnel, 1,238 Communications Section personnel, 145 Electronics Section personnel and 38 Technical Support Section personnel. The Applications Systems staff, within MISD, supports the development and maintenance of over 160 major applications consisting of over 6,000 programs. As needed, the NYPD works with other agencies (such as DoITT and FDNY) to undertake initiatives that result in intra-agency technologies.

Real Time Crime Center (RTCC)

NYPD Commissioner Kelly had the vision for a “Real Time Crime Center” (RTCC) that would serve as the first centralized technology center to give field officers and detectives instant and comprehensive information to help identify patterns and stop emerging crime. The RTCC is using a vast number of technologies and analytic tools to feed information to the detectives of the RTCC.

The RTCC opened on July 18, 2005 and provides support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It consists of several applications that provide data mining, monitoring, reporting and planning capabilities. The Center tracks all crime and all responses to it, providing a real-time picture of police resources and their availability throughout the city, making it an important management tool and crime-fighting resource.

The basic concept is a system that brings information together, freeing it from the different silos (squads, precincts, units, divisions and departments) where the information is stored. It then uses an integration hub to assemble the information in context for the user. The technology sits on top of existing systems and information repositories, pulling together the content in response to queries.

Query Transactions

The NYPD is moving from a solely transaction-based IT operation and adding a huge query-based operation. Now that NYPD has a Crime Data Warehouse with 30 years of information and many new search tools, department users are data mining information previously not available. The NYPD has provided access to Complaint and Arrest documents filed through Omniform and three new Case Management Systems: NITRO (#3 priority) and Enterprise Case Management System (DD5 Pinks - #4 priority). The ECMS contains investigatory details of over 1 million Detective Bureau cases.

Automating the case management systems unlocks the information buried in mountains of previously paper-generated case files. The #5 priority was to rebuild the computers in the data center and rebuild the networks and increase the bandwidth to carry the information officers request. As computer capability grows, NYPD recognizes the need to provide more powerful computers. Much of this has been built and more is purchased and scheduled to be installed.

Consequently, a $20 million SONET Ring was installed in 2006, touching every NYPD precinct and all 285 buildings. The SONET Ring is a Synchronous Optical NETwork with a 10 Gigabyte per second capacity. The ring is a high-speed optical data network that is self-healing and does not have a single point of failure. The SONET replaced 800 T-1 lines that were connected to 1 PP and constantly failed. The installation of the ring eliminated over 800 hours of failures each year. NYPD has had zero failures since the SONET was installed. The ring also serves as the transport for the Counterterrorism Bureau’s videoconferencing system and TARU’s video surveillance system.

An enterprise-wide e-mail system was implemented to replace the disparate systems in place. Microsoft Exchange is accessible virtually 24x7 and allows users to access their e-mail from any computer on the NYPD network and outside the Network via VPN (Virtual Private Network).

In 2004, approximately 2,500 laptops were installed in NYPD cars, thereby eliminating the old MDT terminals. In 2009, “Hot Spots” were installed in all precincts, which gives the NYPD the capability to “update software and databases” within 100 feet of a precinct while also providing a new capability to conduct photo searches. All Commanders in the field were also given PDA devices such as BlackBerrys. These devices have software that allows access to NYPD databases such as Domestic Violence, Pistol License and Warrant Photos.

The precincts were all given new computers and new networks and provided with up-to-date Microsoft software. Today all computers are connected to a central site that monitors about 16,000 devices and can remediate them from the central NOC.

Crime Data Warehouse

The RTCC has integrated more than 20 data sources, creating one centralized repository for crime information. The data mart emphasizes the specific demands of an organization in terms of analysis, content and presentation. Among the data sources being converged are Operations, OMAP, Counter Terrorism, Chief of Dept., and Intel. Billions of records are made available to detectives and other officers within minutes, instead of days or weeks.

Enterprise Case Management System (ECMS)

The Enterprise Case Management System (ECMS) manages all investigative details of all cases within the Detective Bureau with limited exceptions. The purpose of this application is to provide NYPD detectives with a facility to capture information for a Complaint Informational Follow-up (also referred to as the “DD5 Pink” form) into a centralized system. It provides the NYPD detectives with entry, print, and search functions for the information previously entered manually onto DD5s (Pink). This is a Web-based application that runs on NYPD’s IBM zServer mainframe.  

Organized Crime Control Bureau Case Mangement – NITRO System

The Narcotic Investigative Tracking of Recidivist Offenders (NITRO) System was the first fully automated case management system developed and implemented at the NYPD. It is a Web-based system that was deployed in 2006 throughout the Narcotics Division as a replacement to a legacy mainframe application. Unlike its predecessor, the new NITRO system provides the Narcotics Division with the capability to support the full investigative lifecycle. The system supports the collection of Organized Crime Control complaints (drugs, guns, auto crime, etc.). Complaints are routed to their respective Narcotics borough and assigned to investigators by their supervisors. The investigator then uses the system to conduct and document his investigation.


The Boston Police Harbor Patrol Unit, a division of the Special Operations of the Boston Police Department, recently acquired the Coda Octopus Echoscope Underwater Inspection System (UIS) side scan sonar. The UIS is a high-resolution, real-time 3D inspection system. 3D sonar technology can be utilized to identify and respond to underwater threats moving and stationary, providing for enhanced port and harbor security. The system can be operated to make rapid inspection of harbor walls, piers, bridges, ship hulls, critical marine infrastructure and to visualize underwater intruders. The system will also aid officers in the underwater recovery of evidence.

This past August, the officers of the Harbor Patrol Unit used the system at the request of the USCG in Boston to scan and inspect the hull of a visiting freighter in a training exercise. The device is compact and portable, approximately the size of a suitcase.

It can be mounted on the side of two of the Harbor Unit Patrol boats. Currently, Boston is one of only five significant U.S. ports employing Coda Octopus Echoscope Technology.


There’s a Smartphone app for just about everything these days, and the Phoenix Police Department (PPD) is taking advantage of the wildly popular technology to fight graffiti vandalism. According to the PPD, the new technology will allow it to track more vandals, catch them and hold them responsible for all the graffiti they have done, rather than just the one tag they happen to be caught doing.

iPhone users can download the “myPhxAz” application for free from the iPhone App Store by searching for the keyword “myPhoenix” and selecting “myPhxAz.” Once installed, users will simply open the application and follow the prompts to take a picture of the violation and then tap “submit.” Using built-in GPS technology, the application will attach a location to the picture and send the complaint to the Neighborhood Services Department. Residents also can choose an option to receive updates on the status of their request.

With the help of this app, the PDD can more closely involve Phoenix citizens in fighting this kind of vandalism. Graffiti has been a growing problem for the city in recent years. According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Phoenix Graffiti Busters is spending more than $2 million a year to clean off graffiti—a 67 percent increase from five years ago. In 2009 alone, Graffiti Busters painted more than 65,699 sites.

“Graffiti vandals need to understand that law enforcement has come a long way,” said Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley. “If you do graffiti, we now have the tools to track you down and catch you.”

Phoenix Police officers are also using Arcview, the Geographic Information System (GIS) from ESRI, for crime mapping. ArcView is GIS software for visualizing, managing, creating, and analyzing geographic data. Using ArcView, police can understand the geographic context of their data, allowing them to see relationships and identify patterns in new ways.

With ArcView, users can: Author maps and interact with data by generating reports and charts and printing and embedding those maps in other documents and applications.

In addition, ArcView saves time using map templates to create consistent style in users’ maps. Officers can build process models, scripts, and workflows to visualize and analyze their data. They can read, import, and manage more than 70 different data types and formats including demographics, facilities, CAD drawings, imagery, Web services, multimedia and metadata.

Some of the other benefits of ArcView include: Communicate more efficiently by printing, publishing, and sharing GIS data and dynamic content with others. Officers can use tools such as Find, Identify, Measure, and Hyperlink to discover information not available when working with static paper maps. Ultimately, PPD officers make better decisions and solve problems faster with ESRI’s ArcView.


Patrol car cameras are nothing new in law enforcement, but some departments are still using equipment that’s a little outdated—such as the VHS-based video cameras riding with officers of the Austin Police Department. Recently, the department decided it needed to upgrade.

“We were tasked to find a solution that uploads images wirelessly to a server,” said Sgt. Arthur Arevalo, supervisor of the Police Technology unit at the Austin PD, adding that the department eventually selected the Toughbook Arbitrator 360, a Panasonic product. “It has a good many advantages over the current cameras.”
For example, the Arbitrators will be configured with door-trigger switches to capture images automatically as soon as an officer opens the patrol car door or activates the siren—images starting with the 30 seconds of “pre-event” the camera saw before the door opened or siren sounded. The system can also be switched off manually.

The current generation of cameras needs to be switched on manually by an officer. “The new cameras will mean one less thing for the officers to worry about,” Arevalo stated. “They will also eliminate the possibility that an event will go unrecorded because a camera wasn’t turned on.”

A VHS-based system depends on manual handling of tapes once the recording is done. The Arbitrators eliminate that step by automatically downloading images wirelessly. “The video is stored locally on a SIMS card and downloads automatically as soon as the patrol car is within range of a secure police server,” Arevalo noted.

The Arbitrators will be introduced to APD patrol cars beginning in early 2011 after a final round of testing.


Early in 2010, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake challenged city agency heads to use technology to provide a better level of public service to the public. The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) has taken up the challenge in a number of ways, including its use of popular communication technologies to expand its outreach to the community.

Since September, the BPD has been employing such widely used programs as Google Video Chat and Skype to communicate directly with members of the public and news media. The new video conferencing capabilities allow for increased interaction between citizens, journalists and police public information officers (PIOs), so that vital information on crime and police issues can be disseminated in a timely manner, explained BPD spokesman Det. Jeremy Silbert.

These communication tools build on initiatives started in 2009 by the department that involve social networking. Crime alerts, notable arrests and even wanted suspects are broadcast in real time on the department’s Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Videos on police and community happenings are posted weekly on YouTube, and residents can even subscribe to free text-message alerts about crime in their community through Nixle. Collectively, the agency reaches more than 25,000 people through its social media applications.

Information doesn’t just flow from the police to the public, either; it goes both ways because of the new technologies. The intelligence detectives receive from the community is vital in the efforts to keep Baltimore safe, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, said in a recent statement regarding BPD social media. “In order to be an effective partner in the crime fight, the BPD has an obligation to keep residents informed of what’s happening in their neighborhoods so they can actively share information with police,” he said.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2010

Rating : 9.0

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