Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

January 25, 2013

High tech

Technology has its place with law enforcement

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — They still give out tickets, use handcuffs, Tasers and at times, guns. But now, there are a few other tools officers are using at the Lockport Police Department.

A few of those tools help the officers on the job. For example, if an officer has to look into a second floor window or attic, or even around a corner, they’ll want to do so in a safe way. Enter the pole camera, a self-contained video system with a camera at the end of a long, adjustable rod.

It gives police a chance to look without putting themselves in harm’s way, said Lt. Steven Abbott. The camera is designed to be operated by one person and is placed in the supervising vehicle every shift.

“For searching high-risk areas where you don’t really want to poke your head out, it’s perfect,” Abbott said.

Law enforcement agencies are becoming more tech-savvy in order to make their jobs easier. Because as times change, so do the challenges with protecting and serving the public.

There are times where a chase may ensue into an unfamiliar area, made even more difficult at night. To help this, Lockport Police also have access to a thermal camera that tracks heat

signatures, allowing officers to find people no matter how dark it is. 

In the camera, warmer things appear white, allowing a person to stand out from the darker background. Abbott said because of how expensive it is, the department has just the one camera and it’s kept at the station.

Being able to talk to each other is important in law enforcement. A few years ago, the old dispatch system at headquarters was replaced with state-of-the-art cameras, computers and a mapping system are available for officers to communicate with patrol cars.

On the map, officers can track and pinpoint calls. Each vehicle out on patrol is shown on the map as well. Cameras in the communication room can zoom in close, with 360-degree rotation, allowing officers to see clearly in areas like Main Street or Washburn Street. The upgrade came in 2009 with the help of a grant.

In the police cars, there have been changes. The department has two patrol cars with electronic plate readers that work on both parked and moving vehicles. There is also a GPS that records where the scanned vehicle is, which is useful for police when they need to know where a particular vehicle was.

When a vehicle is reported stolen, or for other things such as a warrant or an Amber Alert, the plate reader sets off an alarm. The system was paid for with a state grant awarded in 2010.

The newer cars have cameras, one that records while facing the front and another recording the backseat. Each can hold about 10 hours of video, which is automatically uploaded to the department server. The video is held for 45 days.

With a laptop stationed in patrol cars, officers can use programs like TraCS, an electronic ticket writing program. They can take a picture of a person or their license.

Officers log in and see the location of everyone else logged in. The cars have timers on them which allow the lights to be active but the engine can be off.

”You save a ton of gas,” Abbott said.

One emerging aspect of technology is the impact of social media. The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office runs its own Twitter and Facebook page, where information is posted for followers to see. The office also gives updates on each shift, with arrests or reported incidents.

Lockport Police has a Facebook page, which allows the department to connect positively with the public. And soon, an iPhone app is coming.

And while technology is great, there are times where the old ways work best. If something isn’t working the way it should, officers need to be prepared, Abbott said. Sometimes, nothing tops old-fashioned police work.

”You can’t beat boots on the ground,” Abbott said.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick

at 439-9222, ext. 6241.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.