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IPSA's Public Safety Column
The IPSA's Public Safety Column is an opportunity for our members and corporate sponsors to provide thought leadership articles about all topics facing public safety.
The articles we publish are not necessarily the views of the IPSA, rather they are opinions shared by each contributor.
By Tom Joyce, NYPD Retired Lieutenant Commander of Detectives, Vigilant Solutions VP of Business Development
Most conversations about License Plate Recognition technology inevitably focus on the camera. Maybe that’s because the cameras can easily be seen and touched. But, the real power is in the LPR data gathered from the cameras. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. It’s all about the data – especially when it comes to law enforcement investigations. Cameras capture data and data helps solve crimes.
The LPR camera serves a dual, targeted purpose: to capture anonymous, publicly available license plate data and to send alerts to a police car. But, it is what goes on behind the scenes, after the data is captured, that makes LPR such a valuable tool for law enforcement. When the data evolves into more than just data – when it becomes vehicle location intelligence – that’s when it becomes a force multiplier for law enforcement in three specific ways (1) analytics; (2) prediction and (3) real-time alerts.
Vehicle location intelligence is a proven game changer that helps law enforcement develop leads, solve crimes and stay safe on the job. Let’s explore these three items further.
How does analytics power the data? It does this through robust analytic capabilities that enable law enforcement agencies to develop leads and solve crimes quicker and more efficiently.
In a matter of minutes, one officer sitting at his or her desk can identify a potential lead in a pattern or serial crime simply by analyzing historical data to develop vehicle location intelligence. Here’s how - data filters like year, make, model, time, date and location enable officers to rapidly verify which license plates were scanned in the area around a set of crime scenes. The key here is that officers are receiving more than a data dump of scans from a camera, they are getting actionable, workable intelligence. From here, a common plate analysis can help identify a plate common to multiple crime scenes.
In law enforcement, knowing is better than guessing. Once a plate, or vehicle of interest is identified, the same historical data can help investigators predict where that vehicle can be found. By reviewing previous scans and scoring methodology, investigators can identify a set of locations where the vehicle is most likely to be, and even give investigators the location type (e.g. residences or businesses).
Then, investigators can compare how many times a vehicle has been “seen” versus the number of times an LPR unit scanned at that location for a percentage seen; essentially reporting a canvas “seen” rate. Again, this is developing further vehicle location intelligence for investigators, while maximizing resources.
All thanks to the power of the data.
3. Real-Time Alerts
Officers’ situational awareness is improved through real-time alerts. Let’s explore a hypothetical investigation. Investigators identified a vehicle and the locations where the vehicle is most likely to be found. Investigators now have sufficient reason to add the license plate to a hotlist of vehicles of interest.
Because of this intelligence, the investigators send officers to the suspect’s likely residence and place of work; however, the vehicle isn’t there, but the officers are posted to wait for its return.
At the same time, a patrol officer across town (or even an officer across the state), receives a real-time alert as they pass the vehicle of interest on a hotlist at a shopping mall.
With permissible purpose to access DMV records and determine the owner of the vehicle under the Driver Privacy Protection Act, the officer is able to determine the driver has a history of violence and aggression. This real-time data leads to a call for backup. The officers apprehend the person of interest without incident and turn the suspect over to the investigators.
Because of data, all vehicle location intelligence in the scenario I described above – from identification, to location prediction, to real-time situational intelligence for officers – is possible.
Agencies that understand the investigative power of vehicle location intelligence are generating more leads, solving more crimes, apprehending more violent offenders, enhancing officer safety and better protecting the communities they serve.
In the end, that’s what it’s all about.
Tom Joyce is a retired member of the NYPD in the rank of Lieutenant Commander of Detectives. He commanded the NYPD Cold Case Squad upon his retirement and additionally held many other roles within the detective and organized crime bureaus. Prior to working with Vigilant Solutions, Tom was the Director of Law Enforcement Market Planning for LexisNexis Government Services. Tom often lectures on various subject matters relating to Homicide Investigations and has published numerous articles on criminal investigations. Tom is currently a member of the International Homicide Investigators Association’s Advisory Board.
You play like you practice: Making the case for continual training for law enforcement
By George Steiner, Firefighter/ Paramedic/ Police Officer, City of Elgin (Illinois)
Smart or automated homes is a trending technology that is rapidly advancing. It seems that every time you turn on the TV, you see an ad to buy one.
Smart homes give homeowners the ability to monitor the wellbeing of their homes remotely with a touch of a finger on their cell phones, tablet or computer. Individuals can lock or unlock a door, observe their security cameras, monitor alarm systems, adjust thermostats, turn on or off lighting. Essentially, they can control almost every aspect of their home life as long as it’s electronic.
But, is a smart home really safe? From cybersecurity concerns to fire hazards – is it smart to use this type of technology for your home?
Just like everything there are pros and cons. This article will shed light on some of the benefits that smart homes provide, could potentially provide and discuss some of the concerns.
There are myriad benefits and conveniences to this technology for the homeowner – and for public safety.
Once a detector or the system is activated, it notifies the homeowner immediately. This can let the homeowner check out the alarm and possibly cancel a false alarm before the fire or police department is notified or while they’re en route. This could help reduce the number of false calls that both police and fire departments respond to which save the individual and the departments time and money.
Smart detectors can be packed with many options besides alerting your smart phone and monitoring for smoke and heat. They can sample air quality for dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) levels, can automatically shut down your HVAC system once the detector or system is tripped, and there’s also the possibility of adding a video camera to the detector or area. If a detector keeps malfunctioning or false alarming, there might be an option to change the settings of that specific detector.
If homeowners forget to or are unsure if they shut off the stove, coffee maker or other appliance, they could check that appliance’s status and shut it off before it becomes problematic. Smart appliances or smart outlets can shut down if they get surged, overloaded, or heated up, thus stopping more damage or fire. This also notifies the homeowner that there is a problem.
Real-time video can offer a lot of advantages for the homeowner and possibly for fire responders. The homeowner can observe what’s going on inside the home from a safe location. They can see if there is a fire and the possible location of that fire.
What if first responders could use this technology to monitor fire safety conditions or home invasion throughout the house?
Regarding real time video, it would be nice if responding firefighters or police officers could also tap into the video system to get a look inside before entering. This would be especially helpful in wellbeing checks. They could possibly get a view inside the house to see if anyone is in the home before forcing entry and causing unnecessary damage.
The real-time video could also let firefighters see where the fire has been and where it’s at, helping get water on the fire faster. Fire investigators could use saved video to assist them to determine the origin and cause of a fire. Video and other important information can be saved remotely in cloud storage rather than being saved in your home on a physical storage device, which can be damaged.
Finally, smart home technology could also benefit police officers and firefighters by giving them real time information that can help determine their incident action plan.
On the other hand, allowing the fire or police departments access to your smart home’s video system brings up the potential invasion of privacy.
If you allow departments to access your system during an emergency, could they gain access anytime? Other questions arise as well. Who has access, what can they watch and when, what kind of information can they collect on the homeowner and what could the information they obtained outside the intended purpose be used for?
Smart homes require Internet access and electricity or an alternative power source. If you lose power, the Internet’s service goes down and you don’t have backup capabilities, your system will not work, leaving you unprotected.
And since the system is tied into the Internet there is always the possibility of being hacked, which can create its own set of problems. There are numerous cybersecurity concerns for homeowners to consider.
Despite the few potential downsides, the technology being used in smart homes will certainly aid in fire safety and overall home safety because it allows homeowners to monitor their homes and adjust as needed.
Free Webinar Registration - Cybersecurity, Information Privacy and Public Safety: Much More Than a Technology Challenge
Our Critical Infrastructure Runs on Cyber
Recognizing, Combatting Cybercrime
By Stephanie Erb
The #IAM911 movement brought Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to light in telecommunications. Call takers never know what type of call they are about to answer – and when they hang up the phone, no matter what kind of call they just took, they have to quickly adjust their mindset and prepare for the next incoming call. This all happens in a matter of seconds.
I received a 911 call and listened to a child scream in pain as he was burned by flames while his drunk father yelled at him.
After help arrived, I hung up and took the next call about someone who locked their keys in their car. The immediate shift in mindset is challenging, but a necessary part of the job.
Telecommunicators do not get to go to the scene and see these voices we hear. Some voices become so familiar that the caller's name, address and often date of birth, are singed into our memory. Some voices have obvious fear. Some have the sound of desperation and helplessness. Some have hatred.
The 911 calls we answer are sometimes quickly disconnected, and we never get to see what sounds like screams of sheer terror was actually a small child crying from a bump to the knee.
When officers are on a call and not answering their radio, we do not get to observe their status in the field – we just have to wait and wonder. It’s possible, and probable, that the officer doesn't hear us because he or she was playing catch with the neighborhood kids or talking with a member of the community.
Recognizing 911 call takers/dispatchers as first responders
Because telecommunicators are unseen by those we help, we are rarely thanked for the service we provide. Although we are the first line in public safety, we are usually the last one people think of when the term public service is discussed or used.
Many people assume that all 911 call takers/dispatchers want to be cops or firefighters. But that’s not the case for the telecommunications profession. Most 911 call takers/dispatchers are proud of their role in public safety and do not desire to switch public safety professions.
PTSD and everyday job stress runs rampant through the telecommunications profession. It’s important for agencies and the communications centers’ teams to establish a routine check-in – especially after a rough call.
Make sure to offer to listen while they go get some fresh air or while they call their family. More importantly, don’t ignore it. Acknowledge the call and assist with recovery.
Stephanie Erb is an IPSA Member and on the Peer Review Committee for the IPSA Journal. She is happily married to her Police Sergeant husband for 8 years. They have two dogs that are spoiled more than most kids. Stephanie was a police officer for 9 years until a back injury ended her career in policing. She switched to the other side of the radio as a dispatcher. She now does policy development along with handling her police department’s training and accreditation and continues to dispatch part time. Having the grand slam experience as an officer, dispatcher, and wife to an officer Stephanie brings a unique perspective to this crazy weird public safety world we live in and love.
The thin gold line: What it’s like being a 911 call taker or dispatcher in today's climate
What is the story behind the #IAM911 movement?
#IAM911: An apartment fire and the calming voice in the dark
How a dispatcher, 911 call taker took cautious steps to save a woman’s life
Why the tough 911 calls, worst days are officer involved or when translation services are needed
How tragedy affects 911 call takers, dispatchers
#NPSTW Video Stories from the Field IPSA
Webinar: Integration of Tactical Dispatch: Critical Support for Incident Commanders
Webinar: 911 - The Critical Voice of Dispatchers/Call Takers
A Week in Review: NPSTW 2017
Are you thinking about a new job or promotion? Wondering about your options for a better career?
Today’s job market requires you to set yourself apart from the competition. Experience, skills, awards and membership in professional groups are certainly worthy methods, but education is vital to gaining job consideration and respect.
This carries over to the area of law enforcement, as your education level can often be the determining factor in hiring and/or promotion for second-tier and management posts. In fact, “The Impact of a College-Educated Police Force: A review of the literature,” indicates police officers who have earned a college degree have better overall job performance and greater advancement opportunities than their coworkers without a degree of some kind.
Interestingly, a 2010 research study suggests that having a college degree reduces the likelihood that officers will use force as their first option to gain compliance. The study also indicated educated officers demonstrate greater levels of creativity and problem-solving skills.
Boost your education and law enforcement career with an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice administration. Courses in criminal justice degree programs cover topics, theories and practices that deal with law enforcement, courts, corrections, administration and more.
Degree programs in criminal justice provide a strong academic foundation with an exploration of current key issues in law enforcement that instill a dynamic knowledge base and skill set in students.
Birmingham, Alabama, Police Sergeant Katrina Johnson can attest as she said her online master’s degree in criminal justice administration from Columbia Southern University led to her promotion from a precinct, evening-shift supervisor to an investigator in internal affairs.
“My degree has enhanced my knowledge in the field of criminal justice administration as it relates to managing personnel and problem-solving,” she added.
However, if a degree is not part of your education plan right now, you may also want to look into certificate programs in areas that could aid your career as well. A few online certificate programs that might interest you include:
These certificate programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and feature 12 semester hours of courses and instruction.
About Columbia Southern University
One of the nation’s pioneer online universities, Columbia Southern University was established in 1993 to provide an alternative to the traditional university experience. CSU offers online associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees such as business administration, criminal justice, fire administration and occupational safety and health. Visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu or call (877) 347-6050 to learn more.
The IPSA has a Learning Partnership with CSU. All Members receive a 10% tuition discount on all online classes and an application fee waiver. Contact us about how to reedem.
Paynich, R. L., Dr. (2009, February). The Impact of a College-Educated Police Force: A review of the literature [PDF].
Rydberg, J., & Terrill, W. (2010). The Effect of Higher Education on Police Behavior [PDF]. Sage Publications.
In recogntion of NPSTW 2017, the IPSA Communications Committee worked on several projects to raise awareness.
From webinars and photos to personal stories about what it's like being the first, first responder - we invite you to read and share the stories below we received from telecommunicators around the country.
In addition to the articles and webinars, we also received a number of photos of agencies celebrating NPSTW. Here are some of our favorites:
Above: CMPD's Telecommunicator of the Year and Supervisor of the Year ceremony . Our Telecommunicator of the Year is Yessica Rodriguez and the Supervisor of the Year is Sonya Shores. Congratulations!
Above: The City of Troy (Alabama) recognizes the hard work of its dispatchers during the National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week Proclamation Day signing, a yearly event.
Above and below: CCEMS (Texas) Communications Center rolled out the red carpet for their telecommunicators this week!
Below: Augusta (Georgia) Communications Center shows their NPSTW spirit from by having a Super Hero Day and Tacky Wacky Day!
Thank you to everyone who participated in NPSTW and sharing your stories with the IPSA. We appreciate your dedication and service to the public safety profession.
By J. Scott Quirarte
“Fire as a weapon” is a bad term. A weapon is defined as being something designed or used to inflict bodily harm. When fire as a weapon is discussed, it is usually in the context of discussing terrorism and other intentional criminal acts directed at others.
In the past few years, there has been an increase in fire at violent incidents. This is especially true regarding barricades, which more and more are ending in fire.
In these incidents was fire used a as weapon? Was fire a means to an end? Or was it suicide by fire?
Flaws with the terminology
The term, fire as a weapon, is keeping first responders from getting prepared.
The issue with policy makers using terminology like fire as a weapon, is that it is defining only one possible use of fire, and more importantly, one possible scenario. When was the last time you had an incident where fire was used as a weapon? Arson does not count because fire is being used as a tool, not a weapon.
When was the last time fire was a result or byproduct of a criminal act? I can hypothesize that fire was not used as a weapon, but your department has likely experienced an incident in which fire was the result of some other criminal act.
It’s very hard to convince first responders, managers and policy makers to spend the time and money to prepare for something they do not think they will encounter often. For example, if I tell your department that it needs to prepare for fire as a weapon many will ask why because a lot of first responders view terrorism as something that occurs in other jurisdictions. This is a major problem, it is limiting and not a true picture of the threat fire presents.
Fire has been and will continue to be part of violent incidents. Instead of planning for a term, lets plan for what needs to be accomplished: fire suppression in the hot and warm zone. If you don’t agree and think the term fire as a weapon is the correct term, that’s fine, just plan for it.
If your department can handle a large-scale fire as a weapon incident, the single-family home or apartment building will be no problem. The point here is that your department better be prepared, because this is already happening.
Fire during a criminal or violent act is going to happen in your jurisdiction. First responders will receive a call for service that has them answering to a fire in the middle of a law enforcement incident. The scenario may be a domestic incident in which one person ignites the belongings of another, or it may be as complex as an armed person barricaded in an apartment that’s burning.
We must prepare for these threats. Doing nothing is not an option. Deciding whether to let the involved house or structure burn to the ground because someone is shooting may be justified, but is letting the neighbor’s house burn or putting the community at risk justifiable? How about the entire block?
The only way to answer these questions is if you have planned the response out in advance and, the plan has procedures for doing more than standing back. When the incident is over, the policy makers and civilians we serve are going to ask questions. Will you have an answer? Will you be able to defend your plan?
If your answer today is that we have never thought about it or trained for this, then you are going to have problems.
I am not advocating for unsafe operations. I am advocating for a plan prior to the event. If you have not planned for this type of event, then you have no way to properly analyze the risk, and by default, are already operating in an unsafe manner.
Rescue Task Forces, and other integrated response programs, can be used for these incidents. If you have a program to provide medical care at violent incidents, you have training that will work for incidents involving fire. A warm zone is a warm zone. The same skills used by law enforcement officers to protect firefighters conducting medical care can also be used for fire suppression.
The biggest error made regarding integrated response is that it is only thought about for large scale AS/MCI incidents. Limiting the utility of an integrated response program is a shortcoming because there’s no limit to how these programs can be used. From simply shutting off a fire alarm, to forcing a door, or throwing a ladder, law enforcement protects and fire complete a task.
It’s an easy transition to use integrated response skills for fire suppression.
There will be fire in the hot zone. Firefighters can’t operate in a hot zone, so any fire suppression in hot zones will need to be done by law enforcement. Again, it’s about being completely prepared versus not having a clue about how to respond during this type of scenario.
The first objective for firefighters – after rescue – is to protect exposures. Exposure protection can be done from a distance. So, why can’t a cop do this?
If we let the involved structure burn to the ground and protect exposures everyone wins. Now, I am not saying give cops an SCBA and step back. What I am advocating is to train and educate law enforcement, as part of the integrated response program to give them the skills to support firefighters during this type of scenario.
While it’s unrealistic to train and educate every cop, it is realistic to teach your SWAT team. Teach SWAT about fire behavior, how smoke is fuel, don’t break windows and to open doors. Teach SWAT how to use a hoseline to protect exposure and do some transitional attack. Practice putting a firefighter in the armored vehicle as the fire expert while cops use a hoselines from the turret. Develop methods for working together to keep the block from burning to the ground.
We are one team. Sit down together and discuss fire suppression in the hot and warm zone. Plan now because it is coming.
Webinar: Is this scene safe?
By Kassey O’Hara, Troy (Alabama) Police Department
I received the first of a series of calls reporting a serious motor vehicle accident. An elderly lady had a medical issue that caused her to travel over the median of a four lane highway. She struck another vehicle head on. That other vehicle was driven by a young female with her toddler in his car seat in the back. The two females were pronounced dead on arrival.
The child was transported, air lifted to the local hospital. Unfortunately, the little boy passed away mid-flight.
I have taken many 911 calls involving motor vehicle accidents, fatalities, incidents involving children and even calls involving people I knew personally. However, for some reason, this call distressed me in a way that I can’t explain, even now.
After we found out that the little boy had passed, I went to go on a food run. On the way, I completely broke down, as I never had before and haven’t since. I began having trouble sleeping and really considered finding another career.
The reason that I stayed with it is, during my soul searching, I realized that for every person that we are unable to help, there are hundreds that we do. I replayed calls and transmissions, looked at dispatch and response times, and replayed the whole scenario in my mind over and over. After doing so, and speaking to some of the responders who were on the scene, it became obvious that there was nothing that anyone could have done to change the overall result.
I find myself thinking of that day often, especially when dealing with motor vehicle accidents where children are involved. I think of that little boy and use it as my drive to keep going, to continue to do my job to the best of my ability. I like to think that their passing is being honored with every person that I help save.
National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week 2017
By Nicole Hoover, Cypress Creek EMS, Communications Training officer
The voice in the dark, the face that isn’t seen and the last to know the outcome, is where my story comes from.
I took a 911 fire call that I will never forget. No different than any other fire we work in the center; call volume is high especially for an apartment fire. My partner and I took a dozens of calls for a working apartment fire, but I was stopped and kept one person on the phone during the intense call volume coming in.
It was a male and his wife, unable to leave the apartment due to the fire. I don’t think I will ever forget him telling me that he was unable to get out because flames were outside his door. On the inside I was panicking, but I knew I had to remain calm so they knew they were in good hands. I instructed them to get into the bathroom in the bath tub. This was the safest spot at the time.
Trapped in a fire
I remember him telling me that he and his wife were together in the bathroom. At this point you start to make an image for yourself. A couple, scared on the phone with a stranger telling them that help was on the way, all the while they could hear and feel the fire outside their apartment walls.
We talked and both remained calm. What do you say to someone that is trapped in their apartment while it’s on fire? I honestly couldn’t tell you the details of our conversation; we tend to block things out to cope.
During the call, while we were waiting for the fire department to arrive on scene and make it to their apartment, the phone went dead. I lost the connection.
A couple of days later while on shift I overheard people talking about the fire and that people passed away. So of course my ears tuned into the conversation. I was informed that the couple that I was on the phone with never made it out. After more information came out I was also informed that our fire marshal did a time line and smoke inhalation caused this outcome and the fire department would not have made it to them in time.
Months later, my agency decided to use this as a training scenario, for our employees and new hires. At this point, the couple’s identity was released, and I could put a face to the voices. After people hear the recording and watch the presentation, I get asked, “how do you deal with that?”
I know that I did everything I could for them to get help, I was their calming voice in the dark.
By Dylan Prather
It was around 4 a.m. on Monday, April 17, 2016, when I answered a 911 call from a female.
The very first words that I hear from her is “PUT THE GUN AWAY.” I immediately knew that I needed to act fast if I was going to save someone’s life. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew every second I was on the line counted. She needed help right away.
She wasn’t answering my questions. It was just an open line –an open line, and I felt helpless. I kept reassuring her that this was 911 and that I was going to get her help. I was able to obtain a GPS ping with the cell phone, and I immediately dispatched the road deputies to the general vicinity of where the phone was located.
I then used our communications center’s texting capabilities to make contact with her. While keeping the line open, and still listening to what was going on in the background, I used the texting system and sent the female a text message.
During the course of our text message conversation, she was able to tell me what his name was, the weapon used, and that he was saying that he was going to kill her. These messages were only minutes apart, if not seconds. However, in these situations they seem like hours.
The female lived in a remote area of the county, so it took the deputies awhile to arrive at the scene. While they were responding to the call, I was continually updating them on the information that was vital while simultaneously running information to see if I could determine who owned the phone number so we can see if we had previously dealt with the subject.
I wasn’t going to jeopardize her life by calling her back, but instead I just maintained an open line and continued to communicate with her over text message. The officers arrived a short time later and took the suspect into custody.
In the days following this incident, the media swarmed our communications center and this story was used as a promotional to promote the text-to-911 system.
I am thankful that I was able to save a life that day, and this is something that telecommunicators do every single day. We must recognize their hard work in safeguarding the community.
When considering the design, development and deployment of police technology there are several factors to consider — funds being a big one. There is no doubt police workload has increased fivefold since the 1960’s with resources not keeping pace and funding falling to the wayside.
Technology funding has become a large problem many departments face. Thirty-five years ago, the only “technology” needed was a police radio and the location of the nearest pay phone. Today, police radios scan thirty-plus channels and officers typically have in-car video cameras, traffic monitoring radar units, access to automatic license plate recognition (ALPR), in-car laptops or tablets with Internet access, body-worn cameras, department-issued cellphones and, of course, personal cellphones.
Police are being tasked with increasingly complicated challenges as the state of technology evolves, but today’s most effective agencies aren’t exactly lacking in technical fortitude.
Take the following questionnaire to gain insight into the challenges many police departments are facing today:
Did you answer yes to many of the common challenges police departments are facing today? If so, you’re not alone.
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Rugged Laptop or Rugged Tablet — How to Decide on the Right Mobile Computer for Law Enforcement
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