Technology: MPD’s Sidekick

Thanks to technology, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s crime-fighting job is made a little easier.

Some of the most commonly used devices include K-9 gun detection, ShotSpotter and laptops, which are installed in patrol vehicles and help officers communicate and locate criminals, weapons and drugs.

“They are effective tools and are used in conjunction with many other devices, techniques,” said MPD Communications Executive Director Traci Hughes.

The laptops are most common and are used on a daily basis by patrolling officers. Hughes said officers use the laptops to file reports on “self-populating forms.”

Self-populating forms are those that have software that recognizes certain names or similar information and fills out the rest of the form, or some of it, based on the first few text characters that are entered.

“It saves time for the officers in the field; they spend less time filling out paper work, and more time patrolling the District,” Hughes said.

First District Commander David Kamperin said that dogs in the K-9 gun detection program are specially-trained dogs, like narcotic dogs, who are trained to detect certain firearm and bomb scents “that are specific to firearms.” The same, Kamperin added, applies to dogs who can sniff out bombs.

On September 14, a MPD Yahoo!Group user reported that she was informed that there was a shooting at Marbury Plaza on Good Hope Road in Southeast D.C. the night before. This information was accompanied by helicopter presence in the area and what sounded like gunshots.

Officer Nathan Sims responded to her post that the helicopters in the area were in response to the reported gunshots, making sure there were no victims. Once none were found, Sims said K-9 Gun Detection units “were deployed to the area, to detect gun violence. No guns were found.”

This is an example of the MPD using its technology to confirm or disconfirm reported incidences of criminal or suspicious activity and to more efficiently gather evidence if a crime has occurred. A inanimate source of gun detection comes in the form of the ShotSpotter, which Hughes said is a system that is developed by an independent vendor whom the MPD purchases the technology from.

Huges said the department also used ShotSpotter to find guns. ShotSpotter, Inc. makes Gunshot Location Systems (GLS), which serves the military, 911 dispatchers and other public safety agencies. Shotspotter’s Web site touts that GLS “utilizes patented technology to detect weapons-fire events over large, complex environments.”

With the principle of using “acoustics triangulation,”, ShotSpotter locates gunfire across an area as large as of 25 meters over one to two miles ranges accurately and is not “fooled” by sounds such as firecrackers and a backfiring car, which may sound like gunshots. The Web site also noted that the technology is cost-effective because it requires far fewer sensors per square mile — eight to 12.

Howard University’s surrounding neighborhood, Shaw, has been visited by the ShotSpotter technology.

In June, the acting commander of Third District Commander George Kucik reported to a MPD Yahoo!Group member named David, who has the screen name davidinshaw, that several buildings in the Shaw neighborhood had ShotSpotter installed in them.

The poster described why ShotSpotter technology is an asset to the MPD and the community, saying “we need to get ShotSpotter deployed so that the police aren’t dependent on sometimes not-very-precise reports from residents.”

MPD also uses the Internet to catch wrong-doers and to serve as communication between the department and citizens. Officer Nathan Sims was able to respond to a citizen’s concern about gunshots at Marbury Plaza in southeast D.C.

He said helicopters had circled the area in search of victims, and K-9 units were deployed to search for guns. Unfortunately, that night, they were not able to find anything.

But, citizens still feel safer because they can communicate with the police so quickly.

“I use the MPD (1D) e-group to stay connected to my immediate community, through awareness of reported crime activity and observation of police response,” said Elaine Hall, a reesident of the 1800 block of Potomac Avenue SE.

“Since I view the list[serv] as a formum for the gathering of general information, I consider every correspondence to be useful in some fashion.”