Bee Investigator

If you commit a crime in Modesto, there's a good chance you're on camera

If you live in one of the neighborhoods where they were installed, you’ve probably noticed them – that’s the idea, after all.

The Modesto Police Department has six pod cameras in high-crime areas of the city that are intended to deter criminal activity as much as they are to capture it on video.

On boxes surrounding some of the camera’s equipment are large decals of the department’s star-shaped patches. A light on top of the boxes flashes blue so that they can be easily seen at night.

The Department purchased three of the cameras last year and recently installed three others that it's testing.

They will be an integral part of the department's Real Time Crime Center — a place where officers can access live feeds of those six cameras and dozens more throughout the city. It will allow them, in real time, to hone in on an area where a crime had just occurred and provide a description of a suspect or the license plate number of a fleeing vehicle and its direction to officers on the street.

The department has worked on the Real Time Crime Center since 2015, first by getting access to feeds of the city’s approximately 50 traffic cameras and building the center inside the police department. It features multiple work stations and 10 55-inch flat panel monitors at the front of the room, which display the camera footage from around the city, a map of the city showing the location of patrol vehicles and calls for services.

In the past 18 months, the department and the city have added more cameras, including six stationary license plate readers that scan license plates on cars parked or being driven in the area and send alerts to the department if one comes back as stolen. There also are the pod cameras, which are the most advanced of all the cameras with 360-degree views and pan, title and zoom capabilities, according to Lt. Brandon Gillespie.

The department also has partnered with Ontel and Rank security companies to gain access to all of their camera feeds.

Gillespie, who is overseeing the center’s completion and operations, said the final hurdle is integrating at least seven computer systems being used. In addition to all the camera systems, there is a geographic information system that shows where each patrol vehicle is and where all the active and pending calls for service are, color-coded by their priority.

“All of this comes down to time,” Gillespie said. “People flee areas, stolen cars take off, we have got to be able to access that data. I don’t have time to log into a separate system to pull up the camera (feed). The suspect, the car, it is all going to be gone by that time.”

But once the systems are integrated, the center operator can click on an icon on the map of Modesto indicating a high-priority call like an assault or robbery. The system will zoom in on that area of the city and other icons will show the location of all the nearby cameras.

When the operator clicks on the camera icons, a live feed from the cameras will pop up in separate windows.

There is a camera near the location of a fatal hit-and-run that occurred in downtown Modesto last month at Seventh and L streets. The driver of a stolen Chevrolet ran a red light and struck a Mustang, killing the driver. The driver of the stolen vehicle fled the scene and was recorded on the camera and his picture was circulated to the public.

The suspected driver, Manuel Gonzalez, was identified and arrested two weeks later thanks to tips from the public. But Gillespie thinks he would have been arrested the day of the crime had the Real Time Crime Center been in operation.

“The staff working the center could have replayed the video immediately and put out the suspect description and last direction of travel,” Gillespie said. "Responding officers could have then set up a perimeter in the area and potentially located the suspect. That is exactly the type of success stories we plan on having with a fully functioning Real Time Crime Center.”

That will happen as soon as the systems can be integrated, possibly next month or as soon as the next few weeks.

It will be staffed by officers on light duty or cadets, Gillespie said.

The center has been in a dry run of sorts for months. An officer has been testing out all the systems and monitoring feeds. Crime analysts were moved into the center last year to enhance the information coming from the center by looking up a suspect's criminal history or searching previous contacts at a home and whether any convicted criminals live there.

The center was staffed by police and fire agencies in February when the Tuolumne River flooded. It was used to monitor a live feed from Don Pedro reservoir and live footage from the police department’s drone. The drone was hovering over the Tuolumne River and Dry Creek but can just as easily provide footage of a perimeter during a search of a robbery suspect.

Once the center is fully operational, Gillespie said he will began work to partner with more private businesses to gain access to their security cameras. Inspired by a model of a program in Detroit, the businesses will get signs alerting people that they are not only being recorded but that those feeds could be being viewed live by a police officer in the Real Time Crime Center.