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Have you ever wondered if the police officer in the car next to you is running your license plate? Or if the speed signs that show your speed actually work? Or if the officer giving you a ticket is recording you with a body-worn camera?
Parker police public information specialists answered all of these questions during an adult lecture series at the PACE Center Feb. 7, during the Innovations in Police Technology lecture. Josh Hans, public relations coordinator, and Lt. Chris Peters with the Professional Standards Division presented the lecture, which was created to inform residents of technology used by the department.
“This lecture tonight is about what we specifically use in Parker, and what's of interest to Parker residents,” said Hans. “Our ability as a department to be nimble and make changes allows us to use technology and always be on the lookout for a better way to do things.”
Hans introduced the audience to a decision simulator, a training tool used for officers that presents them with various situations, including traffic stops that go bad, active shooters, or a man just retrieving his wallet from his back pocket. Officers react to each situation, and supervisors can change the outcome of each scenario, so while the man may retrieve only his wallet one time, the next time it might be a gun.
“This is vital in our training,” said Peters. “When an officer makes the wrong choice, they need to know immediately what went wrong. With the simulator, it's safer to make mistakes than in real life.”
Hans next answered the question on many people's minds: Do officers run plates randomly?
The answer: Sometimes.
“We do have a few cars equipped with LPR's or license plate readers,” said Hans.
Cars equipped with LPR's are circulated through the force and are equipped with several mounted cameras around the car. The cameras scan license plates of all cars around, and according to Hans, can find stolen cars, unregistered sex offenders and Amber Alerts. The information recorded can also be used after a crime has been committed, if the car happened to be within the vicinity of an LPR.
“This allows the officer to focus on the road, and is mostly used as a crime prevention tool,” said Peters. “Joyriding is only a small reason people steal cars. Usually they steal cars to commit crimes.”
E-citations are another way the department uses technology, and according to Peters, the information can be stored for future use, including warnings issued. Tickets are issued using an electronic hand-held device, rather than a written citation. Officers can use the information to track trends and keep an eye out for repeat offenders.
According to Hans and Peters, those speed signs placed in neighborhoods that register your speed and issue a “slow down” warning are effective for several reasons.
“First of all, people do slow down when they see them,” said Hans. “Secondly, we are able to retain the information we need to effectively follow up. We may get a complaint about speeding in an area, and we could go there and sit all day, just to find out the speeding only occurs in the evening. With the data from the speed signs, we can determine when the best time is to patrol the area, based on speeding.”
Peters presented the department's policy on body-worn cameras, saying “this is a program we are 100 percent behind.”
In fact, Parker has been recognized on a national level for its policy regarding body-worn cameras, which, according to Hans, is the direct result of Peters' perseverance. Peters worked with the ACLU to establish a fair policy that allows officers and community members to be protected, without violating the rights of innocent people.
“One of the concerns was should we be recording a victim when we are interviewing them, versus interviewing a suspect,” said Peters. “It's not often the ACLU and police work together, but after a long effort, we came up with a policy that we think is fair for everyone.”
Every officer on the Parker force has a body-worn camera, and follows strict guidelines as to when it is allowed to be turned off.
“When interacting with an apparent crime victim, the enforcement member should, as soon as feasible, ask the apparent crime victim, if they want the enforcement member to discontinue use of the BWC. If the apparent crime victim responds affirmatively, the enforcement member should immediately discontinue use of the BWC,” according to the policy.
Peters said the department is in the process of getting a new system for records management and dispatch, to replace the current, outdated system. The department is also planning to switch from the old app MyPD to a new mobile app that will be specific to Parker.
Hans told attendees of the importance social media has come to play in law enforcement, improving communications between the department and residents.
“It's about getting the word out,” said Hans. “We now have a channel we've never had before, and it's not just for bad news. We are very blessed to have a chief who is forward-thinking, and willing to embrace the technology that can help us do better.”
Cindy Merritt attended the lecture, and said it was well worth her while.
“I think this was great,” she said. “The information was good, and I'm happy they shared so much and in such depth. It gives you some pride in your police department, and personalizes them."
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