The electronic stakeout: Innovative use of GPS technology
In PoliceOne "First Person" essays, PoliceOne Members candidly share their own unique personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line
Editor's Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Member Joseph K. Loughlin is a former Assistant Chief of Police in Portland, Maine, and author of Finding Amy. In PoliceOne "First Person" essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an e-mail with your story.
By Joseph K. Loughlin
More than ever before our police departments and communities are being asked to do more with less — and that’s not going to change. The problem is compounded when it comes to proactively neutralizing criminal activity on our streets and in providing safety for our communities — we do so with far less resources.
The reduction in police department personnel across the country is placing tremendous strain on our communities, on police administrators, and especially on the officers out on patrol and investigating crime. New initiatives in technology provide great promise and are showing that the use of advances especially in the area of GPS is now part of the game.
I had the opportunity to observe an outstanding presentation by two motivated officers who were thinking outside of the box. Lieutenant Travis Martinez and Corporal Don Bryson of the Redlands (Calif.) Police Department’s community policing program have spearheaded a new approach to modern policing by using GPS engineered technology to capture the bad guys. So far, the program is demonstrating tremendous results by catching criminals during crimes-in-progress.
Targeting Two Criminal Areas
Concerned about an increase in robberies and property crime in their city, Martinez and Bryson obtained several tracking devices through the Internet, which they used in very innovative ways. Their initial efforts targeted two areas of concern — car burglaries and the theft of copper wire, which was becoming a rampant problem in their city.
By legally placing the devices in electrical outlet boxes where copper wire was being removed, or in the back of a computer to be used in a bait car where car burglaries were rampant, they were able to track the stolen goods directly to the perpetrators as the crimes were in progress.
Lieutenant Martinez explained that as officers saw direct results in arrests of in-progress crimes and the recovery of property, they were rejuvenated in their work. They also noticed a precipitous drop in their crime statistics. Catching a criminal during an actual crime is rare and a thrilling event for a police officer. It is by far easier on the officers and dispatchers as it streamlines the work when they are catching people in the act with the goods in-hand.
We all know the deal with stakeouts, the resources required, the cost and manpower and often-poor results. Stakeouts are expensive, manpower-intensive, and show a very low success unless there is specific information. With tangible evidence, the prosecutions of these cases move forward quickly and most arrests are repeat offenders.
Martinez also explained a case of armed robbery in a gas station that was located next to a freeway on/off ramp in the city of Redlands. The GPS device was used with permission of the owner who had been frustrated with various crimes and armed robberies of his business. It was embedded and concealed inside actual currency and then placed inside the cash register. When moved, it activates and links with several components. It immediately alerts the dispatch center as well as officers cell phones through an instant messaging system. One can then observe a location map of the device and suspect moving in real time all through a secure Internet-based system.
Within days, the tracker activated, the location map displayed the live track and a repeat offender was captured with the goods in-hand. This case illustrates a real-time modern, practical and legal use of GPS, smart phones, and smart cops. Police officers here took advantage of newly engineered tools that are truly force multipliers and vessels of change to enhance public safety. They were able to stream a real-time crime in-progress into their communications center, mobile data terminals and smart phones. In the end, there were no high-speed chases, no exchanges of gunfire, no police officers or citizens injured, and a repeat criminal offender was arrested.
Officers had a full recovery of cash, stolen property and a very happy merchant who is a big part of the local community and now a solid police supporter. Martinez related dozens of other success stories including the arrests of many violent offenders. Redlands PD officers are truly changing their community by putting numerous repeat offenders back behind bars and are assisting other police departments in doing the same.
In July of 2013 Redlands PD arrested their 65th career felon by using the technique of electronic stakeout (ESO).
The word has spread quickly and other agencies are now utilizing the same methods and have demonstrated powerful effective new ways to reduce crime in their cities and towns across the country. Lieutenant Martinez is now part of structured training in this application throughout the state of California.
A new mindset has been created on how police can tactically operate in crime-fighting deployments. This impressive outcome was started by creative thinking, dedicated police officers who searched for new ways to fight crime. They have certainly made a difference.
It would do us all well to heed Oliver Wendell Holmes: “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions”
By identifying emerging technology and utilizing social and electronic media as well, police can now target crime in a cost-effective and resourceful way that creates positive change in their cities and towns. There is also a growing community cooperation that expands, strengthens and develops new partnerships throughout these examples. It clearly improves overall public safety and prevents future crime. Police leaders and our ever-vigilant officers are wise to constantly seek new ways in addressing crime, protect our communities, and create a safe and caring environment for all of our citizenry.
That, after all, is our job.
About the Author
Joseph K. Loughlin is a former Assistant Chief of Police in Portland, Maine, and author of “Finding Amy” You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Redlands (Calif.) PD program go to: www.cityofredlands.org/police.