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Technology transforming today's local police work

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

As Westerville police officer Dan Ruth pulled up behind an old red pickup truck at a traffic light on a recent afternoon, he noticed a rear break light was out.

He entered the car's license plate information into his cruiser's laptop computer and nearly instantly saw who the car is registered to and all of that person's information, including name, address and picture, and whether that person has any outstanding warrants, past traffic violations and how many times officers have run the car's license plate number through the system.

After the driver was pulled over, Ruth scanned his driver's license through the car's system, receiving all of the driver's information.

A passenger in the vehicle raised suspicions and a second cruiser pulled up. That officer brought a portable finger-print scanner and ran the passenger's prints through a national database.

Nothing came from the traffic stop, save a citation for the broken tail light.

Ruth hand-writes a ticket he expects soon will become a relic. He said cruisers soon will be equipped to electronically print tickets, allowing all of the information gleaned through the license plate and driver's license to be automatically input with the citation.

"That will save a tremendous amount of time," Ruth said.

In addition, the carbon copies of handwritten tickets can be difficult to read, and the printed tickets will be neater, clearing up any confusion for those who must read them later on, Ruth said.

Ruth's traffic stop was routine, but it demonstrated the way technology has infused the Westerville Division of Police, providing officers with more complete information more quickly and making their jobs easier.

"We strive for the greatest technology because it makes us more effective and efficient," said Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer.

Putting technology in the hands of officers on the street is crucial because now police really can perform nearly any electronic task from nearly anywhere, making the practice of being tied to a desk to file paperwork and do research outdated, Morbitzer said.

"When we look at hard walls, they really don't exist anymore," he said.

Now, technology touches nearly everything the police division does, Morbitzer said.

Officers beginning their shifts attend a debriefing meeting, where up-to-date information is projected onto a smart board.

As officers get in their cruisers, they can use the Google portal adapted by the division to view notices posted by the division or read updates from the previous shift's officers about their specific districts.

If officers are called to an incident where the city has security cameras, they can pull up the feed from those cameras on their cruisers' laptops.

The technology officers are using in the field is constantly increasing, Morbitzer said. The division has a research and development team that keeps its eye on the latest technology and determines whether it would be effective in Westerville.

With money from a county grant, two police cruisers recently were fitted with scanners that automatically check the license plate numbers of cars the cruisers pass, Morbitzer said.

Cruisers soon will be fitted with dashboard cameras, and the division is researching body cameras for officers to use on a voluntary basis, Morbitzer said.

Within the walls of the police division, technology also abounds.

A high-tech digital fingerprinting system allows the police division to check fingerprints of people arrested in Westerville against a national database to determine if they have outstanding warrants or are suspected of crimes elsewhere, Morbitzer said.

A bank of television monitors in the communications center displays images from the city's security-camera system. In the event of an emergency, Morbitzer said, the police also can tap the monitors into the Westerville City School District camera system.

New computer software allows officers to input information from car accidents and with that data, generate an animated re-creation of the accident.

Investigators can look at the animation from any angle and in 3D.

"What used to take us three people, seven hours to do reconstruction, we can do in about three hours and (produce) a much better projection," Morbitzer said.

The image created gives investigators an accurate reconstruction and also would be invaluable if an accident case went to court, he said.

The division updated its reporting system two years ago, making the system more efficient and allowing officers to see crime trends throughout the city, Morbitzer said.

In house, the division is looking at connecting its technology to other departments in central Ohio, so police can better share information, Morbitzer said, and be more aware of regional trends or criminals that may be striking in multiple jurisdictions.

"That's what we need to develop regionally, is connectivity," Morbitzer said.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com

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