Thanks to the addition of a new $650,000 mobile command unit and 10 personal police officer cameras, the Laurel Police Department is hardly lagging behind when it comes to the latest technology.
"I think Laurel leads the way on a lot of the new police technology," said city spokesman Pete Piringer. "What's good for the officers is good for the public. It just makes a lot of sense."
Both the new command unit and the personal cameras are expected to be deployed for full use sometime in March, Piringer said.
"We are trying to keep up with the latest technology," Mayor Craig Moe said. "The more we can provide our officers, the more it allows them to work with on the streets and for preventing crime."
While the new command unit will aid the department in special situations, the addition of the officer cameras is something Police Chief Richard McLaughlin is excited about working into the department's everyday operations.
"We will use them for training officers, officers on patrol, in the execution of search warrants," McLaughlin said. "It will document incidents and show we are in compliance with the law. ... It's more practical for executing cases as well."
The 10 personal officer cameras, which cost $2,000 each including maintenance and replacement warranty, are placed above the officer's ear at eye-level and held in place by a headband or by snapping onto an officer's eyewear.
"One of the greatest things about the cameras is it gets the officer's point of view," Cpl. Jason Sarver said while demonstrating the camera at the Laurel Police station last week.
Connected by a wire to the 3-inch camera is a 3-gigabyte memory and battery pack, which is also used to turn the camera on and off. Although the camera is not always "on," it is constantly recording and storing up to 30 seconds of footage, which allows an officer to play back some previous recording when an unexpected incident occurs.
All footage recorded by officers will be uploaded to the city's server by plugging the device into a USB port. Officers can immediately view playback of the footage through an application on their smart phones, Sarver said, but no members of the police department are capable of editing the footage. Once uploaded, the footage can only be viewed by authorized personnel.
Sarver said just the appearance of a camera can sometimes calm down potentially contentious encounters.
"It helps diffuse a lot of situations," Sarver said.
Sarver added that the camera will also be used for tactical training involving the SWAT team, and will also aid patrol officers in their report writing.
"Having the ability to go back and review the video is going to be a great tool," Sarver said.
Piringer said the department is currently working with the city's legal department on a policy for the devices.
Depending on the success of the 10 initial cameras, the department is exploring adding another 40 or 50 cameras, he said.
"Eventually, we hope to have a camera in every car and on every officer," Piringer said.
Mobile command unit
"This has all the latest technology, it's state-of-the-art," Tim Frost, the city's director of Information Technology, said standing inside the city's new mobile command unit parked outside the police station last week.
Police will use the 40-foot-long unit, which arrived at the department last week, to respond to emergency situations that last for extended periods of time.
According to Frost, a federal grant funded $450,000 for the technology in the unit, while the city fronted the remaining $200,000 for the vehicle itself.
"It's a mobile emergency operation center," said Piringer. "It will be used for police barricades, a major fire or flooding, things of that nature."
The unit is complete with six television monitors, a mapping system and printer, a fax machine, video-conferencing ability, telephones, a radio dispatcher center, a video surveillance system and satellite television.
In addition to having security cameras surrounding the vehicle, it also has two cameras perched on top of a 40-foot retractable pole.
Frost said footage from all of the cameras can be placed on any of the unit's mounted monitors, along with satellite television and the city's geospatial mapping system.
McLaughlin said the video conferencing, radio dispatch and built-in phones, which are wired into the city's telephone system, will allow Laurel Police to better collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions, which it does on a regular basis.
"It's great for organization, strategic planning and coming up with practical solutions in crisis situations," McLaughlin said. "It offers us a lot more options when we respond."
Frost said the new unit will replace a smaller mobile command unit that the department acquired in 2005.
The new unit is approximately 15 feet longer than the old unit, and will house three to four times the amount of officers, Frost said.
"When we talk about unified command it's about allowing us to talk," Moe said. "This unit has all the things commanders look and ask for."