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A project under way at the Waco Police Department could better arm responding officers with crucial information before arriving at a crime scene, upping the odds that a suspect will be caught quickly and improving safety for officers and residents, authorities say.
Administrators in the department are evaluating the costs and benefits of creating a Real Time Crime Center. The centers have been established in several metropolitan cities through the years, including Boston, New York, Houston and Austin.
The specific operations of RTCCs differ from city to city, but generally speaking, as officers respond to a scene or incident, center employees comb through public and secure databases for information that might be useful to the men and women on the street.
Trained personnel scour databases for information related to the vehicles, people and location of a reported offense to help officers handle the situation, giving police a better idea of who they might encounter and the history of a location, among other things, authorities say. That same information also is used to more quickly identify and locate a suspect.
“The Real Time Crime Center is more of an operational direction that we’re taking in the department, with the idea that we’re able to gather information and then push it out to the officers responding to the calls,” Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman said. “Not only is it safer for (the officers), but we can also manage the calls and provide a better response to citizens when we get there.”
Although dispatchers already retrieve and disseminate information to officers responding to scenes, they are limited by time and resources, officials said.
An RTCC could provide trained staff that does the kind of data-mining used by detectives while investigating a case, said Assistant Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt.
The RTCC staff would use databases for local, state prison and gang affiliation records as well as fingerprints and mugshots, among others.
“We have a huge amount of data available to us — it’s just a matter of getting the data out,” Holt said.
Stroman also envisions the project encompassing criminal intelligence gathering and, eventually, predictive policing components.
Those prospective operations could include staff tracking crime patterns, collecting and compiling data and creating maps that could help administrators foresee crime trends and address them as they emerge, Holt said.
Stroman is preparing for meetings with other area law enforcement agencies, whom he thinks also could benefit from the center to share valuable information.
Those meetings, and the work of Waco police administrators, will help develop a clearer vision of the RTCC by identifying what elements could best fit the agency and the city, the chief said.
Officials think costs associated with the center would primarily be in its personnel, the specifics of which have not yet been determined.
But the department’s anticipated move to the old Hillcrest hospital tower, slated for this summer, could provide the space for the center, and there already is equipment and technology in place that could support the enterprise, Stroman said.
Austin PD’s RTCC
The construction of the Austin Police Department Real Time Crime Center cost about $750,000 in equipment, with primary funding coming from grants, according to a report in the Austin-American Statesman.
It is staffed by nine officers, said Lt. Kevin Leverenz, who helps oversee its operations.
In Austin’s RTCC, officers monitor radio traffic and computer-aided dispatch calls to determine priority cases, then proactively pursue any information that can aid officers, the lieutenant said. They also are responsible for monitoring activity captured on video by cameras mounted around the city.
Last year, the center’s operations helped lead officers searching for a shooting suspect to the man’s door within 20 minutes — using a vehicle description and only three characters of a license plate, Leverenz said.
“I think without (the center), the officers would be at a disadvantage,” he said.
Stroman said he considers developing the local project a priority, adding that he hopes to see it take shape and become a reality in the next few years.
“It’s not just Waco Police Department,” Stroman said. “This is the future of policing.”