Modesto police will soon join the likes of big-city departments in New York, Miami and Houston with the creation of a Real Time Crime Center.
It won’t be quite to the scale of those cities but will provide the same function of equipping officers in the field with information relative to a crime as it is occurring.
Crime analysts who will staff the center will use police databases and more than 100 cameras throughout the city, said Assistant Chief Rick Armendariz.
The analyst can tell an officer on his way to a family fight that a person associated with the home’s address has a previous conviction for gun charges. Analysts can take a partial license plate number of a white Ford fleeing a bank robbery and cross-reference databases to link the vehicle to a traffic accident that occurred two years earlier. If the car is caught on one of the city’s surveillance systems, they can provide officers a description of the suspect. And the analysts can send that video or a photo directly to the officer’s smartphone.
“It’s like having a virtual crime analyst riding shotgun with officers,” Armendariz said. “We want them to provide that information in real time.”
He said traditionally analysts have worked with detectives, digging up information about victims and suspects, looking at crime trends and calculating statistics.
But for the past two years, some of the department’s analysts have been assigned to work with patrol officers, gathering pertinent information as the crime is occurring and not hours or days later when the case goes to detectives.
This same approach will be employed in the Real Time Crime Center, but the analysts will also have access to cameras throughout the city and will be able to monitor officers’ locations on a map as well as the calls for service that are holding, all in one centralized location.
The Modesto City Council this month approved spending on a $117,347 media center, which will display the maps and surveillance footage in the center.
There are four cameras around the Modesto Airport, seven cameras throughout downtown Modesto and an additional nine cameras at the transit center on Ninth Street.
Last year the police department got the software, server and computers needed to view and record footage from the city’s 37 traffic cameras. Five traffic cameras have been added since then.
During the past year, video has been pulled from the traffic cameras to aid in 10 investigations, said police Chief Galen Carroll.
Carroll said he hopes to improve the system by adding multiple lenses that will not only maintain the wide-angle, fixed perspective needed by engineers to monitor traffic patterns, but also provide additional views so analysts can pan and zoom in on suspects and license plates.
In the meantime, the city will add 32 cameras posted primarily at its wastewater treatment facilities and water tanks to protect the infrastructure.
But seven of the cameras will be put in locations where graffiti is prevalent, to catch taggers in the act. Those areas include downtown, Claus Road, Yosemite Boulevard, north Modesto near Beyer High School, and Briggsmore Avenue west of Oakdale Road.
The cameras have zoom and pan capability and can be moved to different locations. They will be installed early next year and monitored in the Real Time Crime Center.
Analysts will also have access to cameras in the department’s Armadillo – an armored surveillance vehicle – as well as from license plate readers.
Armendariz said he is only aware of one other Real Time Crime Center in the Central Valley.
Fresno started operating its center full time in July, which also uses officer body cameras and dash cameras, as well as school cameras through a partnership with the district.
Modesto police hope to add more cameras to its center with similar partnerships, including businesses and shopping centers. Armendariz also wants to start a registry of surveillance systems at private homes – not to monitor, but to serve as a guide for detectives following up on a crime.
Fresno’s center has helped fight crime and enhances officer safety. One camera caught a brawl between two officers and a suspect in front of a Target store. Operators in the center were able to call in backup for the officers, each of whom were unable to reach their radios during the fight.
Modesto’s center is expected to be operational by March.
The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.