Technology serves as a force multiplier

     With tightening budgets, and recruitment and retention always a struggle, law enforcement departments need to look to technology to swell its ranks. Los Angeles (California) Police Department (LAPD) Chief William Bratton has long spoken of technology as a "force multiplier."

     In a message to officers in November, Bratton emphasized the importance of technology, stating, "Technology is truly the key to increasing the department's effectiveness as we continue to fight and reduce crime with limited resources."

     Through Bratton's leadership and partnership with technology vendors, the LAPD grew its already substantial ranks — 9,300 sworn officers, 3,000 civilians and an annual budget of more than $1 billion — to better serve the sprawling community of Los Angeles.

Eyes in the park

     The first technology project initiated under Bratton was a CCTV installation in the MacArthur Park area. "MacArthur Park had fallen into disarray," describes Sgt. II Dan Gomez. "Only people who wanted to commit crimes went to the park."

     The Rampart area has 400,000 people, and for that densely populated area, MacArthur Park is one of the few places where families can go. Unfortunately, because crime was so bad, Gomez says, good people tended not to go there.

     "Over the years, the department would throw a lot of resources into it," says Gomez, a 14-year veteran of the LAPD. "Several officers would go and clean up the park. It would be safe for the time we were there, and shortly thereafter, but because there was no permanent presence other than the standard patrol, things would quickly go back to the way it was."

     For this technology project, the LAPD partnered with General Electric to bring in CCTV cameras and install them throughout the park and surrounding community. The LAPD also assigned a small, but dedicated, force of officers to partner with the community, the business community and social services. Gomez says the initiative was a success with a 46 percent reduction in Part One crimes.

     "Most importantly, we saw that the technology modified the behavior of people in the area," notes Gomez, supervisor of the LAPD's Tactical Technology Unit. "They realized they could no longer commit crimes there due to the officers and the technology."

     Gomez further explains that beyond the camera installations, they later introduced facial recognition and automatic license plate readers into the project. The LAPD received funding from the Department of Justice to finance this initiative.

     "It was a combination of all these things that reduced crime and sustained that level," he says. "We found not only were we able to reduce crime, but we were able to slowly reduce the number of officers working in that area as the cameras modified the behavior of the people. We were able to patrol a larger area with only two officers, as opposed to the much larger number of officers that were needed prior to the installation and use of technology.

     "This is a good example of how technology can be a force multiplier," says Gomez.

Driving technology

     Under Bratton's guidance, the LAPD has been "green lighted" to develop the 21st century's police car. Through the technology utilized in this vehicle, the officer is more effective and efficient in the field.

     "To create the 'Smart Car,' we took state-of-the-art technology and installed it in the patrol car, making it a mobile office environment for the officers," describes Gomez. "This is especially beneficial in L.A. because we have so much area to cover."

     Traditionally, the LAPD has two officers in a car with one officer typing in plate numbers as the other drives. After a 10-hour shift, an officer might get 75 to 100 plates manually inputted into the system. With the automatic license plate reader installed into the Smart Car, the officer can keep his focus on the community rather than a computer screen. Depending on the traffic, Gomez says they are getting between 5,000 and 8,000 license plate readings per shift.

     "Obviously, there is an increase in finding stolen or abandoned cars, and we are getting those cars off the street, which improves the quality of life for the community," Gomez explains. "We also are finding the bad guys who are stealing these cars."

     The Smart Cars also have facial and fingerprint recognition. As Gomez describes, in a traditional traffic stop, an officer detains a person for an offense such as drinking and driving. Finding that the subject did not have an ID on him, the person would be taken back to the station, fingerprinted and await the results from the computer. All this effort, Gomez says, was for a simple violation. If the person had ID on him, he would have received a ticket and the officer would have been done in 10 minutes.

     By having the fingerprint readers and facial recognition in the car, the LAPD can identify the person, decrease the amount of contact with him and give him a citation or take no action, whichever is appropriate.

Connecting the dots

     The next phase in the LAPD's technology use is COPLINK, an analysis and decision support tool for rapidly identifying criminal suspects, relationships and patterns.

     "Anytime you can give officers more information and linked reports in a faster, automated fashion, certainly it is a benefit," Gomez comments.

     "Providing officers with effective tools for driving down crime, thwarting gang activity and countering terrorist's threats is critical to sustaining and improving on the results we've already achieved in Los Angeles," adds Bratton. "With COPLINK in our arsenal, the LAPD will be able to combine the knowledge of our officers with powerful analytical, visualization and decision support tools to speed the connection between suspects and their crimes, and get them off the street faster."

     COPLINK was designed to be a tactical lead generation and analytics tool, notes Robert Griffin, CEO of Knowledge Computing Corp. in Tucson, Arizona. "It is designed to take seemingly large amounts of unrelated data and determine relationships and co-occurrences in relationships to help provide tactical support when you're searching for bad guys," he explains.

     Currently, officers search across several operational data sources when looking for such relational information. The LAPD's data sources include the records management system; jail management system; specialty databases such as gang and sex offenders registries; and probation, parole and court citation systems.

     "The problem is each of these operational data sources sit on disparate hardware platforms and different types of software systems," Griffin explains. "As a result, if I'm looking for a bad guy or trying to find information from those systems, I may have to sit at five to 10 different terminals. COPLINK takes all that information, assimilates it and consolidates the results into a large data warehouse."

     According to Griffin, in the first phase with the LAPD, four operational data sources were integrated into COPLINK, "Once we've done that, COPLINK becomes what we refer to as a node," Griffin says.

     This COPLINK node can then connect with other COPLINK nodes and provide information sharing across multiple jurisdictions. The LAPD will ultimately be connected to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's (LASD's) node. Griffin says they are building a third COPLINK node in Los Angeles, which will connect to the 45 relating jurisdictions around the county.

     They then can be connected to Orange County, which can connect to San Diego, to Phoenix, to Tucson, etc. As a result, police officers are able to find data across multiple jurisdictions, which is vital because, as Griffin notes, criminals today are highly mobile.

     "We already have some great success stories out of the LAPD," Griffin says. "There was a serial robbery case with some very violent people. While the LAPD was not able to get all of the information from their COPLINK node, by connecting to the LASD's node, they were able to get a lot more information, including the identity of the vehicle they were using and who had relationships to the vehicle. By using surveillance, they eventually caught the suspects robbing a little old lady in front of a bank.

     "That's the power of information sharing," Griffin continues. "The power the LAPD now has."

     COPLINK has proven to be a force multiplier with other agencies beyond the LAPD. One of Griffin's clients was able to demonstrate, through a year-long survey, that the agency was able to save 104 full-time equivalents. The client was able to re-deploy those forces because officers were able to go to one location and get more information faster.

     "Every month I get a dozen letters from detectives and officers across the country who say they just took five violent felons off the street by using COPLINK," Griffin says. "That is one of the most satisfying things about what we're doing."

May the force be with you

     Technology multiplies law enforcers' ability to perform their primary functions, which are to investigate crime, prevent crime, regulate traffic and arrest offenders, says LAPD Retired Lt. Raymond Foster.

     "Yes, technology can be a force multiplier, depending on how it's used," comments the author of "Police Technology," a primer on technology in the law enforcement field. "The use of COPLINK is an effort to combine data and get better information in investigations, which is certainly a good idea."

     Foster cites as an example, the breaking into of a parked car, which is not a crime that would typically receive a quick response. But if it could be established that there were a series of break-ins, the police would see that an offender had committed not one but 26 vehicle burglaries.

     "The gun used in the Manson murders was in police custody for nine months before the investigators knew about it because it was in another LAPD division — not in another police department, mind you," Foster highlights. "With today's technology, a police officer can just sit down at a database and find information across divisions and jurisdictions."

     Every beat cop knows that police work is about information. "Now we can organize, recall and conduct analysis of that information," says Foster. "Where technology becomes a force multiplier is our ability to connect seemingly disparate information."

     Gomez believes no single piece of technology is the entire answer. Officers must use technology and work with the community. Combined, Gomez says, you have the strongest solution available.

     "Technology is a tool for the officer. Quite frankly, no technology is ever going to make a single arrest," he adds. "Ultimately, it all comes down to the officer in the field."

     Gomez notes the LAPD is a young department and the officers have grown up with iPods and video games, so they see technology as a natural extension.

     "We still have officers who have to learn the skill sets of how to be a police officer, how to recognize certain behavior that goes along with years of experience," Gomez says. "But you combine that experience with technology, and you have an extremely effective officer."

     "Let's face it," Bratton adds. "With too few cops, we need cutting-edge technology to give us an edge on the criminals so one day we will achieve our goal of making Los Angeles the safest city in America."

     Paul Davis is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at daviswrite@aol.com.

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