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Springfield Police Show Off New Crime Analysis Unit

  The largest police department in western Massachusetts has a new unit that uses digital tools and the latest technology to fight crime.

   The Springfield Police Department’s new $1 million Real-Time Analysis Center is capable of monitoring live feeds from thousands of surveillance cameras, gunshots detected by acoustic sensors, alerts from mobile license-plate readers, and threatening posts on social media. Pertinent information is then sent quickly to officers answering 911 calls and detectives investigating crimes.

    "This time real-time crime analysis is the most sophisticated in New England," stated Mayor Domenic Sarno. 

    Sarno, city councilors, and other city officials Monday were given a tour of the new center on the second floor of the police department headquarters.

     It contains several work stations with multiple computer screens and a wall covered with large flat-screen monitors displaying feeds from traffic cameras, a running log from police dispatchers, and maps that highlight where recent crimes have occurred.

     Plans for the real-time crime analysis unit were announced more than 2 years ago. After several test runs, officials said the center is now fully operational, but is not yet staffed around the clock.

    " We are still working on some enhancements, but we are at a level where we are actively working everyday," said William Schwarz, Director of Crime Analysis for the Springfield Police Department.

    What makes the Springfield crime analysis unit unique, according to  Schwarz, is its real-time capability. 

    "What the system allows us to do is quickly identify cameras within a view shed of a call for service," explained Schwarz.  " If a call comes in for a robbery at Boston Road and Breckwood Blvd,  and we've got a camera (there) it will tell me ' turn on this camera.'"

     The analysts can take screenshots of the video images and send it out to the laptop computers in the patrol cars.   Software can be used to “scrub” images. For instance, if eyewitnesses reported a red getaway car, the video feed can be manipulated to show only red cars.

    Currently the crime analysis unit has access to about 50 city-owned traffic cameras.  But thousands more are expected to be added in the coming months including cameras owned by the Springfield Public Schools, Union Station, and outside the MGM casino.

     As for obtaining permission to tap into feeds from private security cameras, a police department spokesman said a pilot program is the works with Pride gas stations.

        Schwarz said the bigger the video footprint available, the better.  He said people should not fear a loss of privacy.

      " Every time we turn on a camera it is logged," said Schwarz. " I don't have clerks watching banks of video. These are crime analysts in-tune with what is happening  doing data dives and getting information out to the officers  on the streets and the detectives investigating crimes."

      Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri said the information given by the crime analysts to officers responding to a call will make both cops and civilians safer.

       "How many tragic incidents have occurred  as officers responded to an incident cold not knowing what's unfolding in front of them involving people with mental illness or children with toy guns?  What would these officers have paid to have someone looking over their shoulder with a calm unprejudiced eye to provide them information as they were rolling up on an incident to understand whether it was life-threatening or something that could be resolved much more easily," said Barbieri.

      Barbieri predicted the new unit will help solve crimes ranging from homicides to shoplifting to identity theft.

    

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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