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September 08, 2004
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High-Tech Tools for Police; Hawkers Were Pitching the Latest in High-Tech Crime-Fighting Tools at a Police Convention in Vancouver

By Gillian Shaw, The Vancouver Sun

Looking for an assault rifle that will pierce titanium and 20 layers of Kevlar? In the market for a miniature helicopter that can catch bad guys on camera even when they''re hiding out on the roof? Or perhaps your shooting skills need sharpening and you could use a weapons training simulator that would give the Men in Black''s Will Smith pause.

All this and more was on display at the 99th annual Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police conference and trade show, where 140 companies and organizations pitched their latest high-tech crime-fighting tools to 300 police chiefs and other law enforcement executives.

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At Motorola''s display, Robert McGrath demonstrated a portable fingerprinting device that''s a long way from the days of inkpads and paper. The handheld unit, which could be used by police, border agents or anyone else looking for instant print identification, captures the print and runs it through a database. The database might contain the prints of known terrorists, America''s Most Wanted or your garden-variety criminal types and can be stored within the unit or linked via wireless connection.

However, such technology, or at least its application, has limitations. In most jurisdictions taking prints this way requires a user''s consent.

Nevertheless, a pilot project using the device is underway in U.S. President George W. Bush''s home state of Texas. The Harris County sheriff''s department is trying it out.

"It''s still some time away, subject to changes in the police act and other legislation," said Mr. McGrath.

It''s hard to catch someone you can''t see and there was no shortage of gadgetry to remedy that problem.

At Current, which sells EOTech Electro-Optics Technologies'' holographic weapon sights and night vision equipment, the Cadet 75, a handheld thermal unit, could pick out the officers wearing bulletproof vests.

At $1,800 a pop, it also lets you see whether the person in your sights is wearing something close to their body -- like a gun.

"The only thing it can''t do is see through walls," said Current''s Erin McCartney.

At the same booth, Ryan Houghton had advice for using the holographic weapon sights.

"If you want to hit them directly on the heart, get the dot in the circle on the heart and shoot," he said, of a small laser that pops an image in front of the shooter which you then line up on your target. "If you''re moving quickly, as long as the circle is on the target, then he''ll be going down."

Down the show room floor there was a device that could climb walls, scale buildings and, in fact, hover anywhere within about 100 metres from an operator running its joystick-like controller.

Dubbed the DraganFly for the combination of its flying ability and its maker''s name, Zenon Dragan, the toy-sized helicopter carries a digital video camera to deliver real time video images of everything it sees.

"It''s excellent for checking roofs and looking in windows," said Mr. Dragan who was displaying a prototype of the device aimed at police work that came about as an offshoot of a toy version he sells through his website for about $1,000 each. The police version, complete with camera, is expected to be on the market in 2005 and will cost about $2,000.

"It''s extremely practical," Mr. Dragan said. "It will pay for itself immediately, plus they''ll have fun flying it."

No police trade show would be complete without an array of sophisticated weaponry and Daniel Wagner, of the German arms maker Heckler & Koch, obliged with a demonstration of the ultralight MP7 capable of cutting through body armour that is reinforced with titanium and Kevlar.

"And that''s up to 250 metres, which is very important," Mr. Wagner said.



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