This guy commits a crime, and because everyone has cell phones and many places have installed camera systems, the crime is caught and forever preserved — a nice little gift courtesy of today's technology. Now the police have an indelible imprint of that act, including a photographic record of the perpetrator. What comes next?
In one regional department in the United Kingdom, the criminal's image is plastered on an internal Web page that outsiders can then access. If they recognize the photograph, they contact the department and tell what they know. This system has resulted in the identification of several hundred individuals who became instant "stars" when their images were recorded. And while those caught in the act don't appreciate their newfound "stardom," it's a sure bet officers across the pond do.
Law enforcement agencies from around the globe are on the road to truly becoming paperless with records stored in ways that conjure up thoughts of Mr. Spock and the starship Enterprise. That's great news for today's crime fighters — but that's not all. Information isn't the only hot commodity on the police intranet. Savvy departments are also putting their IT capabilities to work finding ingenious solutions to other issues in ways that even Captain Kirk would have appreciated.
Way ahead of the game
Mesquite, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, had a population of approximately 130,000 in the 2005 U.S. Census. Primarily agricultural for decades, Mesquite is both family-oriented, and multi-cultural. Although at least one national software developer has its corporate offices in Mesquite, it's not really a place that conjures up the phrase "cutting-edge technology," but this sleepy-looking Texas town is anything but backward in its approach to policing. Mesquite is a great example of what a department with a progressive chief and an ultra-talented IT division can do if it listens to its officers.
Lt. Steve Callarman, staff support for the Mesquite Police Department, says the city's day-to-day operations reflect a commitment to keeping the lines of communication open and operating — and not simply interdepartmentally, but throughout the local criminal justice system. Mesquite uses an intranet to tap into other agencies ranging from the juvenile information system to the courts. From information on sex offenders in the area, to BOLOs, to the departmental SOPs, officers can access data exclusive to Mesquite's operations, as well as across other agencies. For example, one program that works well for Mesquite is conducted in conjunction with juvenile probation authorities. Termed "Operation Nite Lite," police officers call up the juvenile's probationary requirements via the intranet.
"Officers can go by and check to see if the juvenile is obeying the terms of his curfew," Callarman says.
Officers also access the intranet to monitor calls waiting, general orders, fleet reports (so they'll know when their unit is due for an oil change or other maintenance), impounds, beat information — the list goes on and on.
One of the most impressive and newest features integrated into Mesquite's intranet is a plate scanner. Squad cars, fitted with cameras that scan license plates and take photographs of vehicles as the car passes them, offer instant hits on vehicles entered as stolen or connected with a crime. In addition to identifying hot plates and vehicles, investigators can also go back and find instances where vehicles have been spotted when working narcotics, theft and violent cases. It's a particularly promising bit of technology that's turning intranets into yet another crime-solving tool.
Although the plate scanner technology did not originate with Mesquite, Callarman says many of Mesquite's most useful intranet features sprang from the fertile imaginations of the departmental rank and file. "The IT guys tell us, 'send us your ideas,' and the frontline personnel say, 'we wish we had this or that.' That's really how this whole thing was created," Callarman says.