01/31/2005

DropFire Helps Cops Get the Drop on the Bad Guys

By Christina Torode, The Journal of New England Technology

The Brookline Police Department is stepping up its efforts to fight crime via technology and Cambridge-based start-up DropFire is stepping in to help.

The Brookline PD is already on the cutting edge as the first Massachusetts-based law enforcement agency to implement Verizon’s CDMA-based wireless service, NationalAccess.

The department has wireless modems in 22 laptops housed in police cruisers and 14 handhelds for officers on foot patrol. The officers also have access to local, state and federal criminal records via the implementation of Bio-key International’s PocketCop, which works over Verizon’s CDMA wireless network.

With handhelds and laptops in hand, the next step was surveillance and that is where DropFire comes in.

During the Democratic National Convention, the police department decided to test software that allowed officers to set up surveillance in locations such as hotels and cars and feed live images and video back to the department headquarters or monitoring systems within police cruisers.

The technology behind the new surveillance effort was developed by DropFire, and enables law enforcement agencies to wirelessly access internal databases and receive images such as mug shots, crime scenes and arrest records.

DropFire is beta testing new technology that would allow officers to also send images back to the database using a camera with a built-in PDA, said Scott Cohen, chief executive officer.

The company also recently formed a partnership with Brookline’s Practical Video Solutions to integrate its software with Practical’s cameras for the Brookline Police Department.

Currently the live video is sent over a wi-fi network, but DropFire is developing a CDMA solution, said Scott Wilder, director of technology and a sworn officer for the Brookline Police Department.

“We tested (DropFire’s solution) during the DNC by putting the cameras in nondescript cars or near hotels that we knew had FBI agents and the press staying there,” Wilder said. “We set them up from up to 400 yards away and the system has been pretty robust for us and it will get even better with CDMA,” said Wilder.

The live video is sent back to monitoring systems and can be saved for 21 days before being archived.

Going forward, the police department plans to use the surveillance equipment in areas where several break-ins have been reported for example, or high crime areas.

“With this technology we can catch criminals in the act and record it for court,” said Wilder. “Our officers can also be out responding to calls and be alerted should something come up on the monitoring system.”

Patrol officers and the department’s Identification Unit are testing the surveillance system, but detectives are also reviewing the system, Wilder said.

DropFire also works with the Lowell Police Department, which is using the company’s software to access databases housing mug shots and arrest records.

“We really felt that the ability to send images wirelessly and the ability to gain access to databases wirelessly could make police officers more effective in the field, which is why we’re focusing on law enforcement,” said Cohen.

The self-funded company, which is about to start looking for investors, is not ruling out other target markets, but Cohen is mum on the subject for now.

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