Police use technology to prevent crime

Technology has been instrumental in driving down crime rates.

by Branden Largent


From tracking stolen guitars to mapping fired gunshots, many new devices are helping police in their effort to drive down crime rates.

University of Minnesota and Minneapolis police have been using technology to prevent crime for decades. But over the last 10 years, school crime rates have dipped about 30 percent, according to University police statistics, aided by technological advances.

 “Police are using technologies to help us do our work; it makes our police work more efficient,” said University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner.

Minneapolis police Lt. Jeff Rugel said it also saves officers time to do other things.

“Some of the technology just helps us do things better, faster and more accurately,” Rugel said.

New breathalyzers

University police should be receiving a new breathalyzer system within a few months, Miner said.

The state has ordered all precincts to use a new breathalyzer instrument — the BAC DataMaster — to replace the Intoxilyzer 5000, which was often challenged in court because its makers would not reveal how the instrument works using a trade secret argument, Miner said.

Officers used the Intoxilyzer for 15 years, he said. The device is used for sobriety tests at the police station.

“It’s best for ensuring the integrity of a breath test that up-to-date equipment is being used,” Miner said.

Camera technologies

Minneapolis police have eight or nine mobile cameras operating on the city’s wireless network, Rugel said.

The cameras are situated 30 feet above the ground, sticking out of a 5-by-5 metal trailer.

The cameras are useful during public events, Rugel said, because of the wide viewing range. It also works as a visual deterrent and helps save officers time to respond to other things, he said.

The department has expanded its coverage by adding five more cameras.

Minneapolis police also share license plate recognition technology with the Minneapolis Traffic Control Unit, Rugel said.

While a patrol car is driving through the city, the car-mounted camera searches through every license plate it sees. It can scan hundreds of plates per minute and checks against a database to find stolen cars, amber alerts or people with five or more parking tickets, Rugel said.

The camera alerts the officer once a plate comes up in a database, he said.

“You could never do one-tenth of what this thing does. It’s just so much faster and more thorough than anybody could ever be.”

Monitoring pawn shops

Minneapolis police developed its own automated system to connect all pawn shops in the metro area to a network that logs everything they purchase. Metro area pawn shops are required to be part of the system.

Police are able to access the network and search for any items that were possibly stolen, Rugel said. For instance, if a guitar was stolen, police can check the network for any similar instruments sold to a pawn shop.

“It saves us a ton of time and gives us much better data,” he said.

Tracking shots fired

Police use ShotSpotter –– an array of synchronized microphones that can triangulate the exact location of a fired gunshot.

The technology is used in a couple areas in north and south Minneapolis due to higher crime rates, Rugel said.

The ShotSpotter makes police investigations much faster and more accurate, he said, because they are able to find more evidence and are more likely to catch possible suspects.

New digital recording systems

Minneapolis police have been transitioning from recording video with VHS tapes to a digital system over the last two years.

The system records audio and video inside and outside the patrol car, Rugel said.

The system records the previous 60 seconds before the record button was pushed and uploads video wirelessly once they pull into the police station, he said.

“It just makes a much more reliable permanent record,” he said.

Officers can access the recorded video from their computers instead of going to a central location to check out a videotape, he said.

“We’re becoming more reliant on technology, but that doesn’t change the fact that cops still have to go to calls, get out of their cars and talk to people. Everything starts with that.”