Viewpoints

How technology is helping Dover, Del., stay ahead of crime

By Dover, Del., Chief of Police James Hosfelt

Law enforcement agencies are tasked with the difficult job of keeping a community safe, a responsibility that never goes away. While the economic downturn led to budget decreases, it is still essential that police departments implement the latest technologies when possible to keep citizens safe.

In 2009, the Dover, Del., Police Department reduced its operating budget and put hiring on hold. The city was also experiencing a growing number of complaints from downtown businesses and residents about loitering, fighting and disruptive behavior after bar close. Dover is a small capital city with about 34,120 citizens, but its population fluctuates continuously with Delaware State University, Dover Air Force Base, Dover International Speedway and Wesley College located in or near the city.

To address concerns, the police department and Mayor Carleton Carey, Sr. consulted a security system integrator, about implementing technology to help increase safety. After inspecting the city’s needs, the company recommended installing a video surveillance system in downtown Dover.

A New Take On Proactive Policing 

It was recommended that six pan, tilt and zoom IP cameras aimed at the streets and parking lots outside the downtown bars. The cameras were positioned to allow the department’s emergency dispatchers to monitor known trouble areas in real-time.  A long-range wireless network was set up to transmit video back to the dispatch center, addressing the large geographic area the cameras covered. The system allows the police department to store video electronically, and investigators can access stored footage from the user Interface.

The department quickly recognized tangible benefits of the new cameras. Live, streaming video enable dispatchers to monitor certain events that 9-1-1 callers were reporting. They can share specific detail about an incident with responding officers – increasing officer safety by making them more aware of a situation. The system also enables officers to respond to crowds developing on the streets following bar close and actively control crowds, while continuing to deliver emergency and safety services to other parts of the community.

After recognizing how this technology enhanced the department’s ability to proactively police areas of need, discussions began on how to expand the video surveillance program. The first expansion was to an eight block area east of downtown in a neighborhood beset by criminal activity resulting from a growing gang presence.

Expanding To Where It’s Needed Most

Dover installed eight more IP-based cameras throughout the high crime neighborhood. Soon after installation, dispatchers and the on-duty house sergeants used the video cameras to identify and alert officers about a violent crime in-progress.

The cameras captured a group of masked men drive up to a house and begin unloading items. From the footage, dispatchers determined the men were unloading ammunition and firearms. The footage captured allowed dispatchers to share vital event details with responding officers, so they knew to wait for backup before approaching the scene. Officers had enough warning as the event unfolded that they could establish a perimeter around the scene without tipping off the suspects. They were able to diffuse the situation, before it turned into a serious incident.

In a separate case, the police department used stored video to help solve a homicide.

In this incident, a desk sergeant analyzed pre-recorded footage from the scene of a murder. The system enabled him to easily locate footage of the murder occurring, as well as identify a witness at the crime scene. Using a still from the footage, officers located the witness and brought her in for questioning. Details of this eyewitness account helped the department solve the case.

Future Plans

In addition to solving and mitigating major crimes, Dover has experienced day-to-day differences in how it’s conducting police work, in large part due to the video system. Issues such as prostitution, illegal drug use and breaking up late night bar crowds are easier to stay ahead of or prevent. The success of the system has led to plans for adding 21 new cameras downtown.

In the future, the city hopes to extend the system to the transit station and the local library – two areas where traffic is growing, likely because of the growing sense of safety in this community.

James Hosfelt  is Dover’s Chief of Police. To see how video surveillance system is helping Dover fight crime, click here to watch a four-minute video.

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