Police tech: How cops use IT to catch bad guys

Videos demonstrate high-tech gear police officers use to fight crime and promote public safety

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The Keystone applications also allow officers to do much more Web-based research on suspects and other individuals. Officers can pull up field interviews, arrests, accident reports, fingerprints and photos, along with caution and threat fields that let officers know if the subject is dangerous.

A demonstration of the Framingham Police Department's in-cruiser system for checking on people's police records.

Until the townwide Wi-Fi mesh network is complete, officers are using Microsoft Word to enter their report data on the laptops and save it if they have to suddenly leave on a call. Officers then transmit their reports back to headquarters when in range of a hot spot.

Backup is especially crucial for police departments, where lack of data can make or break a court case. "We back up everything constantly," Burman says. Once per month, he goes out to the cars and copies report data to CDs. The information is also stored on the department network, and the system is backed up every night onto the town hall network.

For even more redundancy, the police department and fire department run identical Keystone applications on identical servers connected by a fiber-optic network, so each department can back up the other's data. If there's a crash on the FPD server, Burman can change his server's IP address to the fire department's server and the police department is back up and running.

A tour of the Framingham Police Department's server room.

In the server room, the department uses an RCN fiber network with copper line backup. For telephone service, the department last summer installed a voice-over-IP system, with eight copper backup lines.

The Compaq servers use a Keystone application called Content Manager that can store photos with incident reports, whereas before, officers had to go to the evidence room to find photos that were associated with their reports.

Until recently, the server room had to communicate with the state's criminal justice information system with a 56Kbit/sec. modem, but now FPD is one of five police departments running a T1 line for much faster response.

This video shows the technologies that the department uses to answer incoming 911 calls and direct responses by police, the fire department and ambulance personnel.

At the heart of the station is the 911 dispatch center. The FPD center is due for an upgrade soon, to replace furniture, consoles and screens that are in some cases 20 years old.

One advanced feature the center has is the E911 VESTA Pallas system by PlantCML, which can pinpoint the location of a cellular call within 75 feet. Previously, only the cell tower being used could be identified, and it might be located far away, even in another town.

The dispatch center includes three identical stations with screens that provide many kinds of information, including the location of officers -- the same data available to officers in the patrol cars.

In the booking area, an electronic fingerprint machine now takes imprints of suspects and submits them to the FBI, which reports back any information it has on the prints within 10 minutes. In the old days, Burman says, the prints had to be mailed to the FBI and "you never would [get a response]."

The breathalyzer machine has also been streamlined and upgraded so information is immediately sent to the state.

Suspects also have digital photographs taken, but sharing them with other town departments must now be done by e-mail. Burman says Massachusetts is working on a project using Microsoft's SharePoint that will allow different departments to share these photos and other information.

In the crime-scene analysis section, photography has also gone high-tech. "Digital is really the way to go," says Off. David Studley. Now photo arrays of suspects, exhibiting certain like characteristics, are gathered on a computer and printed out to show to witnesses. Again, photos are shared via e-mail with other departments.

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