By Gina Tenorio
Surveillance cameras, hand-held computers and crime analysis software that can create instant flow-charts showing how various elements of a crime scene are connected — all are on the San Bernardino police chief’s wish list.
Not that the technology the department uses now is inadequate, but if money weren’t an issue, Chief Garrett Zimmon said, he could significantly expand the capabilities of his police force.
«We’re doing well with the technology,» Zimmon said. «But we could always do more.»
With all the demands that have been placed on the department over the years and the new stresses added by several high-profile homicides within the city, Zimmon has been eyeing new law-enforcement technology that could bolster what he called an already focused department.
Among the technologies he’s been exploring is one already being used by other departments.
«I think everyone now is looking to surveillance-camera technology,» he said.
It’s a wide-open area to look at, said Michael Eckley, Public Safety Systems manager for San Bernardino.
«There are Internet-based access (systems),» Eckley said. «There’s a lot there. And I know there are a lot of departments that are using them.»
That includes Redlands. That city’s police chief, Jim Bueermann, said the cameras have been a success.
«The cameras are about putting more officers where they need to be when they need to be there,» Bueermann said. «We can’t afford to put a police officer everywhere they need to be at all times.»
In the time they have been up, the cameras have deterred some crimes, and that has some feeling secure, he said.
Cameras could be very useful to the department, Zimmon said. But it is equally important to him that technology is used efficiently, he added.
Several of the new programs systems officials are researching are time-saving devices that can get officers back on the beat as quickly as possible, Zimmon said.
«We’re looking into hand-held extenders to (Mobil Digital Computers). You can take them into the building and run people through the system that way,» he said.
Such a piece of equipment would eliminate the need for the officer to take down information, then walk back to his patrol unit.
That technology is commonly referred to as MDC extenders, Eckley said. And the department is testing one now in the field.
«When hooked up to the right kind of antenna, (the extenders) will allow you to get 200 to 300 feet from your vehicle,» Eckley said. «It has a remote screen keyboard that lets you step away and still take your vehicle’s keyboard with you. It has a magnetic swipe reader and onboard fingerprinting.»
Zimmon and Eckley are also watching to see how well it goes with license plate reading software.
The cameras, placed on top of patrol cars, can check the license plates of the vehicles around it and, using optical character recognition, can detect if any are stolen.
«It’s fledgling technology but it has a lot of potential,» Eckley said.
On their «someday» list for now is software known as linkage technology, which is a program that helps with crime analysis. It links suspects to one another, creating a sort of flow chart showing how names, places, phone numbers, even vehicles connect with one another.
«That could help you better target your resources,» Zimmon said.
The only problem is there is no money in the budget for such a program. Its cost could run as much as $ 70,000, Eckley said.
«Like the chief said, ‘Where would we go if we had unlimited resources? This is where we would go,’ » Eckley said of the linkage program. «But we have to prioritize to gain effectiveness through efficiency.»
Even before many of the high-profile cases, the department had been working to upgrade the technology. It made a quiet change in one of the most obvious places: the police vehicle’s light bars.
«We’ve gone to the digital lights instead of the light,» Zimmon said.
The old light bars had bulbs and moving parts. They drained the vehicles’ battery and were not as bright. About 60 percent of the 110 marked black and white vehicles have gone digital.
The department has updated its 9-1-1 system through a tax designed to pay for the upgrade e very five years. Within a year, police officials plan to update the system as the department gets access to global positioning satellite data from cellular towers, Eckley said.
«The problem with technology is that it used to be good for 10 to 15 years,» Zimmon said. «Now, that window is closing.»
With every passing year, more technology is introduced and the prices are usually steep, he said. Departments are left to do the best they can with their resources.
«Police departments are extremely expensive,» Bueermann said. «Everyone recognizes the need for more police officers. But it costs over $ 125,000 a year (for one officer.) That’s with benefits and salary.»
So while departments are pushing to update their technology, Bueermann said there are some things you cannot replace.
«You’ve got to put cops on the street,» he said. His department is trying to cut down on the number of officers and hiring civilians to watch over cameras, take reports and do much of the office work that, in the past, kept his officers from being out in the field.
«We look at technology as leveraging the investment of the taxpayers in the department,» Bueermann said.
By Gina Tenorio