Home field advantage

As community populations increase, agencies find creative ways to stretch budgets without compromising safety and security on the homefront


     Port St. Lucie Police Chief John Skinner echoes the concerns of his counterpart in Fort Pierce. "Our funding from JAG (Justice Assistance Grant), Block Grants (Local Law Enforcement Block Grants), COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) and Byrne Grants (Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Program) has decreased by nearly 90 percent since 2001," Skinner says.

     "We used to get more than a million dollars, now it's less than $100,000," he adds.

     Skinner admits the lack of available funds is frustrating for the law enforcement community. "Money for hometown security has been redirected to large cities and commonly perceived targets," he notes. "Intelligence is the most important tool to combat the threat to homeland security coming out of this area now. You need the technology and personnel to make that happen," he says.

     "It's about connecting the dots. Technology is critical. You can't be everywhere; we will never have enough police officers. Technology closes that gap."

Technology integration

     Determined to bring technology to the officers on the street, Skinner says all 200 police cars are equipped with state-of-the-art video systems, electronic ticketing and computer systems; the city has also added 80 police officers to accommodate the population increase over the last five years.

     One example of technology integration with the Port St. Lucie Police Department can be found on computers in police cars. The Code Amber Ticker is a Java script-based ticker that instantly displays scrolling text on-screen with detailed information about Amber Alerts issued for abducted children in America.

     Bryant Harper, president of Code Amber, says the Code Amber Ticker can be installed on any computer at no cost to any enforcement agency in the United States.

     Another system is called Virtual Partner, a software program developed by Advanced Public Safety (APS). This technology assists the officer in obtaining information at a traffic stop without taking his eyes off the road or leaving the vehicle. Speeding tickets are printed electronically and given to the driver in less than 5 minutes, with a video system recording every moment.

     "It's great to be with an agency whose administration is proactive in increasing our technology capabilities," according to Police Officer Jay Grant of the Port St. Lucie Police Department.

     The department purchased an electronic ticketing software program from APS and is considering adding another program. "We're looking at license plate readers which can scan and check tags against a database at the rate of about one per second," Grant says.

     Grant can enter a vehicle's tag number into the computer system to obtain information using the Virtual Partner software program. A human-like computer voice will respond with an alert tone to indicate whether or not the vehicle is stolen.

     According to Grant, the Virtual Partner software also provides information indicating if the owner of a vehicle is a suspected terrorist, sex offender or on an FBI watch list, and will advise of the appropriate actions for the officer to take.

     Grant also proposed purchasing five Blackberry units equipped with Virtual Partner software for motor units to have the added advantage of running queries on the spot with the swipe of a driver's license.

     "Providing officers with streamlined intelligence is an important consideration for homeland security," says Jeffrey Rubenstein, CEO of APS. "With fewer federal dollars available for city, county and state law enforcement agencies, many departments are utilizing technology to bridge the gap between officer safety and productivity and the fewer resources available to them."

Coordinating and cooperating

     St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara and his staff are resourceful in coordinating services and acquiring equipment for their department. "When funding gets redirected, we have to get creative," he says and adds that Web sites are checked for Army surplus equipment to purchase.

     Additionally, the St. Lucie Sheriff's Department has the region's bomb disposal unit, which serves Indian River, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties. A bomb containment unit, new bomb disposal vehicle and a bomb disposal robot also have been acquired and are available for use in three counties.

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