Police combat crime with gadgets 

New cutting-edge technology will help Millbrae police stage an ongoing "Cops" episode and allow officers to respond more quickly to crimes and emergencies.

New laptops and digital video cameras added this month to two of nine patrol cars will be used to make crime fighting more effective and expedite administrative work,said Cmdr. Marc Farber. The other cars will get the new systems soon, he said.

The widescreen cameras will automatically start recording each time an officer turns on the patrol car's emergency lights, capturing any action in front of the car, such as field sobriety tests for potential drunken drivers. It can also back-record anything up to 15 minutes before the lights are turned on.

The video images appear on the laptop screen, and together they can make DVDs to play in court as evidence against criminals and to protect police accused of misconduct.

The laptops are also valuable because officers can file reports from their cars, which allows them to stay in the field so they can respond more quickly to an emergency or breaking crime. Previously, officers had to return to the station to write reports.

That advantage is important because the police force is shrinking, while the population expands, said former Millbrae police Sgt. Rich Dixon, who retired four years ago but worked part time until recently.

"If you’ve got a guy inside doing a report and only one guy roaming around, that’s less coverage you have out in the city," Dixon said. "This is the way it should be. This way you keep all your officers on the street."

Police can also use the computers to look up photos for suspects without identification, as well as research DMV files using license plate numbers, both of which keep radio traffic down, Farber said.

The total system costs about $11,000 per vehicle, he said.

"It’s kind of like a full-service office on wheels," Farber said. "We here at Millbrae are trying to stay on the cutting edge of technology for our officers."

When cruisers arrive back at the station, an antenna automatically records all the information from their camera and stores it for one year.

The equipment should be comforting to Millbrae residents, considering "there is nothing more important" than public safety in the city, Vice Mayor Nadia Holober said.

The tools should increase report accuracy and allow officers to do their jobs without having to juggle with recording, she said.

High-tech crime fighting

» Panasonic Toughbook laptop with GPS in squad cars

» Widescreen Panasonic Arbitrator digital video camera system in cars that automatically turns on when lights activate

» Audio recorder on officer’s belt

» Antenna in station parking lot that automatically downloads all video information each time a car enters the lot

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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