By Lieutenant Scott Edson, Director, Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program, Technical Services Division Headquarters, Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff’s Department
ecognizing that new technologies available to law enforcement today can have a dramatic impact on crime, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca directed the piloting of a concept that may revolutionize law enforcement practices. Known as Advanced Surveillance and Protection (ASAP), this program features a combination of technologies such as high-resolution video surveillance, acoustic gunshot detection, automated license plate recognition, and other advanced components integrated into a station command center. These technologies, used together or individually, will deter and reduce crime.
The ASAP Scenario
Imagine that a shooting has just occurred wherein the victim is injured or killed. Sensors immediately detect the gunshot and automatically pinpoint high-powered, night vision–capable cameras on the crime scene and send a live image of the fleeing suspect vehicle to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) station command center. The license plate is recorded by the camera and then entered into a database. The suspect vehicle drives through an intersection equipped with surveillance cameras that automatically detect the suspect vehicle and alert the command center and nearby LASD cars. Live images of the fleeing vehicle are transmitted to the LASD cars, which then go into pursuit. During the pursuit, the command center takes control of the local traffic signals, turning them red in order to reduce the potential for collisions involving innocent drivers. This is ASAP at work.
ASAP involves the following technologies.
Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR): Mobile ALPR consists of three cameras mounted adjacent to a radio car’s emergency light bar. These cameras automatically scan nearby license plates and determine if a vehicle is wanted or stolen. ALPR systems can scan up to 8,000 license plates during the course of a single shift. Fixed ALPR systems are mounted primarily atop intersection signal poles and parking lots. These fixed systems scan each vehicle as it passes through the intersection and notify the concerned station when a stolen or wanted vehicle is detected.
Currently, the LASD has 17 mobile ALPR units deployed across several patrol stations as part of the ASAP program. Six fixed ALPR cameras are installed in the city of Compton for the Compton Station, and four are installed in La Habra Heights for the Industry Station. Thirteen additional mobile ALPR units have been procured for the LASD, while several other mobile and fixed systems are in the procurement process by the department’s contract cities. ALPR systems can be configured for patrol cars or covert vehicles, or they can be used as fixed systems in intersections or freeway overpasses in combination with video surveillance technology.
An additional benefit to ALPR technology is the ability to manually input license plate numbers. For example, the LASD has established a process that allows it to input immediately the license plate number of a vehicle wanted in an Amber Alert; therefore, any ALPR system in the county will get an Amber Alert hit should that vehicle be scanned.
Remote Video Surveillance: High-definition video surveillance cameras are being put into use increasingly throughout the United States. Mounted atop buildings or light poles throughout designated public areas, these cameras not only have night vision capability but also can incorporate ALPR technology to read vehicle license plates up to 200 yards away. Pictures from the video surveillance cameras can be transmitted to the station command center and to ASAP-equipped radio cars, allowing live views of suspicious and criminal activity. The video is recorded for investigative and evidentiary purposes. This technology enhances the ability to investigate and solve crimes, strengthens cases in court with video evidence, and improves officer safety when responding to crimes in areas under video surveillance.
Acoustic Gunshot Detection: Acoustic gunshot detection is a gunfire location system that incorporates sound detection sensors with a computerized mapping system. The system is able to determine the difference between a gunshot and a vehicle backfire or other nonthreatening sound. These sound sensors, located atop buildings or other elevated locations, are able to recognize the gunshot and, within fractions of a second, accurately pinpoint the location of the gunfire to within 25 feet. The information is plotted on a computerized mapping system and graphically displayed at the station desk. This confirmation of gunfire and the immediate determination of the location allow deputies to quickly respond to shootings with a much greater level of confidence. Gunshot detection technology has been utilized in the Century Station area, where it contributed to decreases in gunfire ranging from 60 to 90 percent in the areas of deployment.
Additionally, in many areas, the LASD has married acoustic gunshot detection with video surveillance; thus, a video camera can immediately zoom in on a location where gunfire has been detected, display the suspect information, and record events taking place immediately after the shot was fired.
Command Center: All of these technologies are fed into a command center, located at the station. The command center contains video monitors for the video surveillance system and has the ability to download recorded video onto a DVD or CD to be used later as evidence. The technologies are also being fed to the LASD Crime Assessment Center, an all-crimes fusion center.
Ability to Control Stoplights at Intersections: As part of the full ASAP deployment, the station command center will have the ability to remotely activate red stoplights at key intersections throughout the city during a police pursuit. This added level of safety further serves protect the lives of deputy sheriffs and the public.
Compton Station’s ASAP Plan
The city of Compton has a uniquely high number of street gangs, often engaged in territorial wars and intimidation tactics, resulting in a high crime rate. Sheriff Baca recognized that new and innovative approaches are necessary to reduce crime in this area. The Compton ASAP plan utilizes all of the technologies mentioned earlier, integrated into one dynamic system. Video surveillance cameras will be mounted on light poles at 75 locations throughout the city. Acoustic gunshot detection systems will be deployed in key locations, and both mobile and fixed ALPR systems will be deployed. Future phases include a wireless network that will blanket the Compton Station jurisdiction. This is intended to foster both dramatic crime reduction and business expansion to encourage growth and development. The sheriff, mayor, and city council are instituting a citywide “Enterprise Zone” to invest in the city’s future. The ASAP plan is a significant component of this effort to reduce crime and improve the quality of life throughout the community. Funding for the Compton ASAP plan comes from major corporate leaders, such as the Belkin Corporation; Target Corporation; Cisco Systems, Inc.; and a “Safe Cities” foundation established for this purpose.
The ASAP technologies are soon to be deployed in other LASD station jurisdictions as well. Similar to Compton, the Century Station will implement an advanced command center hosting 15 to 30 high-resolution closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras distributed throughout the city of Lynwood and unincorporated county areas. These cameras will link to existing gunshot detection systems and will also interface with some fixed license plate recognition technologies. These cameras will be deployed at key intersections and homed back to the station using both wireless mesh and point-to-point wireless technologies.
Valuable Technologies, Collectively or Individually
Each of these ASAP technologies possesses great value and benefit to the law enforcement mission. The LASD ASAP staff assists the department’s contract cities and unincorporated communities in determining the most effective combination of technologies to reduce crime and enhance public safety.
Sheriff Baca invites any law enforcement agency across the United States to contact the LASD at 562-345-4390 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about the ASAP program, the technologies it uses, or any other law enforcement–related technologies. ■