Brattleboro PD: Tech Shifts Approach to Solving Crime
With more than 10,000 calls per year, the Brattleboro Police Department eagerly investigates any new technology that enables them to respond more quickly and safely. This perspective has allowed them to increase the efficiency of their evidence processing and expand their investigative tool base.
“We’ve been fortunate to have people on staff who are enthusiastic about technology,” said Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald. “They, in turn, train others and show the benefits of new technology. Resistance to technology, many times, is out of fear of something a person is unfamiliar with. We need to view change as good.”
Brattleboro PD has 42 staff members, 27 of them are sworn officers. As with most of today’s police forces, they are increasingly asked to deal with quality of life issues. They serve a 32-square-mile area and a population of more than 12,000 people. Officers respond not only to criminal complaints, but also to mental illness related incidents, family disturbances, and neighborhood noise complaints. It can stretch their resources very thin. When an opportunity arose in 2004 to save both time and storage space, the department jumped on it. They put in place a new evidence bar coding system.
“We used to use three-ring binders to track and store evidence. We generated lots of paperwork that had to be tracked, stored and retrieved when needed,” explained Detective Erik Johnson. “It was very time consuming.”
The new system allowed the department to record and track evidence through a bar code affixed to each piece of evidence. The item is scanned and recorded into a database that automatically generates a report. The binders were gradually replaced by digital reports. The system also flags evidence and lets personnel know when it can be disposed of, further saving storage space. In recognition of their efforts, the department received a Leadership in Technology Award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Since then, the department has instituted digital cameras in their cruisers. All footage is recorded on a digital loop and the encrypted video is loaded on a department server. A simple software interface enables officers to review footage and pull up only the portions of a recording needed as evidence. On-duty patrol officers utilize rugged laptops in their cruisers with an internet connection to access criminal justice information. One cruiser is equipped with a license plate reader to do DMV checks. A department intranet allows reports to be generated electronically and then become accessible to both the officer and other personnel. The department also uses MorphoTrak, a fingerprint identification system that allows for the scanning and storage of fingerprints. Smart phones are issued to supervisors and detectives.
Chief Fitzgerald is hopeful that FirstNet will usher in faster and more reliable broadband service to their area. As is the case in much of Vermont, the topography of the area makes cell coverage difficult in some locations. With a dedicated high-speed broadband service available to them, Brattleboro PD may be able to file all of their cases electronically and generate little or no paperwork.
“Technological changes definitely have impacted how we extract, store and access information,” said Fitzgerald. “We look forward to any new technology that allows us to do our job more effectively.”