Law enforcement continues to use technology to serve and protect
Originally publish in The Exponent Telegram (www.theet.com)
CLARKSBURG — Law enforcement is constantly working to take advantage of developing technology to help them better perform their jobs.
Bridgeport Police Chief John Walker said some of the newest technology his department uses helps his officers identify civilians.
“One of the new things we use is a license plate reader,” Walker said. “We have that attached to one of our vehicles to read license plates automatically.”
Bridgeport Police Officer Aaron Lantz drives the cruiser with the license plate readers attached.
“These cameras capture text when I pass it,” Lantz said. “Sometimes they’ll even get street signs or other things, but when it picks up a license plate, it sends it to my laptop in the cruiser, and it runs through different lists. If it’s a stolen vehicle or a sex offender or on the DEA’s list of drug traffickers, it comes up on my laptop along with a picture of the vehicle so I know what I’m looking for, and I can just turn around and follow.”
Another new piece of technology the Bridgeport Police Department is using is a digital fingerprint scanner.
“It will take prints by scanning your fingers and your palms and the side of your hands,” Walker said. “If there’s an identity problem, the machine can give you an answer within minutes who the person is if their prints are on file or if it’s the person that they say they are, so it’s really nice to have that. We also have a portable one that we take out in the field and use.”
Taylor Sheriff Terry Austin said his department works hard to keep technology current.
“We have an officer whose primary job is to dump (information from) confiscated computers and phones so we can access information that will lead to more arrests,” Austin said. “We’re doing another program through the Governor’s Highway Safety Grant that will let us put computers in all of our cruisers. With those, officers can print tickets in their cruiser and just drive by the courthouse to upload that information, so they can spend more time on the road and less time in their offices.”
Austin said another piece of technology he hopes to see his department using in the future is body cameras.
“When you go into situations in houses to apprehend somebody or whatever the case may be, the cameras help with documenting everything that happens,” Austin said. “It’s for the protection of both the individuals and the officers involved, it’s not one sided. That way there’s no saying, ‘he did this or he did that,’ there’s no denying anything. It’s there on video, and it does make the officers always remember to pay attention to what they say. It’s just good for everybody.
“I’ve talked to other departments, and, prior to the cameras, they’d have a lot of complaints about employees, and once they started wearing body cams, the complaints went to practically nothing. A lot of them were either people complaining about things that weren’t happening or the officers changed their attitude and approach once they had body cams on. A lot of people say it’s an invasion of privacy and stuff, but it’s there to protect everybody involved. We hope to have body cams on all the officers by the middle of May.”
The Buckhannon Police Department uses the cameras, as well, Chief Matt Gregory said.
“One of our biggest attributes, as far as technology goes, is our body cameras,” he said.
He said the cameras help improve the accuracy of suspect’s or witness’s statements by recording exactly what they say and even their demeanor.
“Anytime you need to take statements or anything like that, it always helps to corroborate what you would have in writing,” he said.
Gregory said it took several months for the department to prepare to use the body cameras, including field testing them, conducting research on them and preparing usage policies.
“I think it’s a major asset, as far as technology goes, with the police department,” Gregory said. “It fulfills the goals of what the program was to begin with. It helps us gather evidence, whether it be statements or whether it be visual images of the scene, as well as accountability with the officers and the people that we encounter.”
In Harrison County, Sheriff Robert Matheny said his department is running trials with body cameras and hopes the County Commission will allow funds to equip the department with body cameras and new Tazers in the coming fiscal year.
“With the body cameras, there’s a lot of technology that has to go into that,” Matheny said. “For example, we need electronic evidence storage to hold the videos that the camera captures.”
Looking toward the future of technology in law enforcement, West Virginia may soon be utilizing systems to track real-time data concerning substance abuse and overdoses.
Nicholas Wissler, manager of geospatial analytics for Deloitte Advisory, is a Bridgeport native who hopes that emerging methods of data collection can help the state of West Virginia.
“My colleagues at the Deloitte Center for Government Innovation have analyzed all the states in the country that have addressed the opioid epidemic, and in looking at those that have been most successful, they found that we need an entire ecosystem to address this epidemic,” Wissler said. “We’re not going to solve a problem by just remaining in a bubble. We also need leadership involved, people who are going to bring us together and bring our talents together to work on a solution.”
Wissler has worked with his company to create computer models that can analyze a number of different factors and identify areas and situations that have a high risk for contributing to the problem of substance abuse. As an example, Wissler told the story of “John.”
“John is 24, and he got hurt on the job,” Wissler said. “He’s obese, he has diabetes and hypertension, and it took him over a month to submit his claim for workers’ compensation. When he submits that claim, a host of information goes into our computer model. What our computer model will then do is aggregate those factors, and create a prediction that tells us how long a person like John will be prescribed opioids. This prediction is four and a half years. After 4 1/2 years, John is at a high risk of being an addict.”
Wissler said their computer model is an analytics-based solution where both a doctor and the insurer will have access to the information, so issues can be addressed early.
“Maybe the physician only prescribes to John for seven days,” Wissler said. “Maybe he engages him with alternative medicines. Being able to come up with an aggregate picture of people like John at this stage we’ve found to be crucial, and other states are already implementing things like this. We’ve actually done this for the state of Pennsylvania, as well as the state of Massachusetts.”
Wissler said analytics are allowing government agencies and law enforcement to be more proactive in finding issues early.
“What if I told you we could get to John earlier in life, and we could map out the greatest concentrations of people like him who could be vulnerable to addiction?” Wissler said. “We’ve done this for the state of Pennsylvania. We combine economic factors like income, education level, and multiple lifestyle factors, and we map those out at the census track level. So key decision makers, people at the government level can now look at this and see where to allocate resources, where resources exist in relation to where they’re needed, and where they may need to use extra funding or grant money to develop new resources.”
Wissler said another innovation that his company has implemented for the state of Pennsylvania is a real-time analytics database that can be used to track overdose deaths as they’re occurring, which can also be used by decision-makers to determine where resources are needed. Other applications for analytic solutions, Wissler said, could be monitoring prescription drug sales, including the number of cash payments, and looking at the number of beds available for those seeking treatment, and where those beds are in relation to where they are needed.