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With nearly 10,000 sworn officers, there’s no question that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) is big. But recent investments in technology—and a long-term commitment to technology as a force multiplier—have made the LASD remarkably efficient and a shining example of the future of policing in America.
Recently, the department—which polices a huge, diverse and densely populated area with many high-value assets, including a train system, public buildings and several jails—announced a department-wide deployment of mobile data computers (MDC). Mobile data terminals (MDT), which had in some cases been in operation since the mid-1980s, were replaced with Panasonic CF-31 computers running the Windows 7 operating system.
“MDTs are essentially dumb terminals,” says LASD Capt. Scott Edson. “The calls get sent to the deputies but they just don’t have an awareness of other events. The biggest change deputies will experience [with the new system] is an increase in knowledge. They’ll be able to engage in intentional patrol.”
The MDC deployment, which was announced in November 2011, has changed fundamentally how officers work at the LASD.
But what’s truly remarkable about this process was the scope: nearly 2,500 vehicles were upgraded, including everything from off-road Jeeps to jail vans to several makes of cruisers. Each deputy will receive eight hours of training on the new equipment, a process that will take approximately two years to complete.
“Staffing and budget cuts are on the minds of law enforcement leaders these days,” says LASD Capt. Mike Parker. The LASD has therefore leveraged commercially available technologies to save on costs and improve efficiencies.
“Citizens want more services for less money, and they want it done exceedingly well—with ethics as a priority,” says Parker. The LASD delivered.
Mobility is key to officer safety and effectiveness, and LASD deputies are now able to access tools in the field that had previously been desk-bound luxuries: the LASD data network, fingerprint programs, geo-positioning systems, email, the Internet and more.
“We identified 48 facilities in the county for Wi-Fi access points,” says Greg Costa, program manager for Raytheon, which oversaw the installation. “The in-car computers will transfer from cell or broadband connections to Wi-Fi seamlessly, providing officers uninterrupted connectivity.”
In addition, patrol vehicles are outfitted with global positioning systems (GPS) that interface with computer-generated maps, allowing officers to see precisely where their colleagues are in relation to their position. This, too, results in long-term cost savings.
“In the past,” says Parker, “crimes in progress might have required a helicopter to tell you if you have a hole in your containment. Now you can look at your computer and see a bird’s eye view. You can catch your suspect like a net.”
GPS technology has other benefits. “Our deputies were pursuing what they thought was a drunk driver, who was tearing up baggies of white powder and throwing them out the window,” says Parker. “Now our deputy sees this and every time a baggy is dropped, he hits a button that geo-tags the location. So another deputy can now go back to that specific location and pick up the baggies. This adds to the evidentiary value too: Now the suspect can’t claim that they weren’t his drugs that were dropped.”
LASD has also employed BlueCheck by 3M Cogent. This powerful mobile device—about one-third the size of a BlackBerry—reads fingerprints and provides officers with instant access to information on the suspect if the person has been fingerprinted before. The device is responsible for several important arrests.
“We had a fare evader in the San Fernando Valley,” says Parker. “The guy gave us sufficient reason to look into his background. The guys BlueChecked him, and instantly found that he was wanted for murder. Not only does this device give you the ability to catch the bad guy, it also gives you the ability to see if the person is who they say they are.”
Parker emphasizes that officers must be aware of the civil liberties issues surrounding the use of such technology. “Just like we carry guns, we need to be careful in the deployment.”
Like other progressive departments, LASD has found license plate recognition (LPR) technology to be a superb force-multiplier. Its program began with three units donated by a private business in March 2007. In the first trial month, approximately 80 stolen cars were recovered.
LPR allowed officers not only to decrease crime in high-crime areas, it also discovered criminals hiding in plain sight.
“We arrested a parolee-at-large with burglary tools and his girlfriend with outstanding narcotics warrants,” says Deputy Samuel Paul. “This was during a test of the system in an upscale area where no one expected criminal activity.”
Dubbed the ASAP program, LPR technology has expanded to approximately 70 Ford Interceptors.
“LPR accuracy was important to us,” Paul says. “But so was the backend tools. We’re a diverse county, so working with other jurisdictions—even if they don’t have LPR technology—is critical. The backend allows us to share information readily.”
The department networks the Pips processor through a Motorola MW810 computer, which has a monitor and keyboard up front, with the processor in the rear. This allows the LPR processor to bypass the MDC if needed (the program was implemented before the department had MDCs).
If you’re thinking about implementing an LPR system, heed Paul’s advice: “It has to be as simple as a vacuum cleaner for cops to use it.”
“Don’t be in a rush,” he says. “Do a good test of each vendor, and don’t take anyone else’s word for anything. Let your end-users, your officers, do the testing.”
Technology is by its nature new, and what’s new challenges the status quo. It’s taken considerable vision to implement the changes seen at the LASD, and the department isn’t standing still. They continually test new technologies that might make the department more effective and efficient.
Ultimately, it’s all about serving the community. “Social media and technology make us more efficient and open and transparent,” says Parker.
A commitment to service permeates the LASD at all levels. This, coupled with cutting-edge technology, allows the LASD to rise to its many and diverse challenges. It’s an example to be emulated.
How LASD Does It
• Mobility: Technology is no longer tied to the desk. The recent MDC deployment and systems such as BlueCheck get technology into the hands of deputies in the field. This in turn leads to greater situational awareness, decreased long-term costs, enhanced communications and increased efficiency and effectiveness.
In every almost aspect of their policing, the LASD seeks to share with other agencies. This helps to defray costs when it comes to grant funding. It also recognizes the fact that criminals don’t respect jurisdictions.
Case in point: They chose Pips Technologies LPR in large part because the backend software allowed for sharing data among agencies.
• Social media:
This relates directly to the previous point. The LASD not only seeks to share information among officers and agencies, it seeks also to interface with the public it serves. By partnering with vendors such as Nixle and embracing social media technology, the LASD is able to engage its citizenry in a dialogue that makes everyone safer.
Bottom line: The LASD is a social media innovator. In fact, it’s currently working with California POST to develop social media curricula.
• Volunteers: The LASD relies on 400 Explorers and 3,800 civilian volunteers who perform tasks that free up the time of deputies. Example: Volunteers sort and deliver mail between stations, saving time and money on traditional postage.
• Partnering: The initial three LPR cameras were made possible by a donation from a company that wanted to see crime reduced in its high-crime area. Mini Cooper has provided cars for civilian mail delivery, in return for feedback on vehicle performance. By partnering with private businesses, the LASD is able to do more within their budget.
Please see above photo of the LASD cruiser for the following features:
1. Forward-facing Pips Technology cameras: These two cameras pick up vehicles passing on either side.
2. Side-facing Pips Technology cameras: These two cameras are used to read parked cars.
3. Federal Signal Argent LED light bar is bright and energy-efficient.
4. Cellular and Wi-Fi antennas: Two shark-fin antennas ensure connectivity in the field.
5. Two radio and GPS antennas are mounted on the trunk for ease of replacement, if needed.
6. Because LASD’s LPR program was developed before their MDC deployment, the platform was designed to run absent an MDC. The Pips Technology processor networks to a Motorola MW810 platform. The system is fast, accurate and rugged.
Note: A big reason for choosing the Pips Technology system was its backend software and the ability to share data among agencies. The LASD is exemplary in its networking of LPR data.
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