SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Springfield Police Department is working towards utilizing cameras, drones, and other technology to combat crime instead of constantly needing to hire more officers.
The plans were laid out during a City Council Lunch meeting Tuesday, April 27. Police Chief Paul Williams gave an update on what is already being used, what is in progress, and what he hopes to implement in the future.
What is being used?
City Council approved about $600,000 in funding to purchase 241 body cameras in October 2020. Springfield police began recording interactions with the public in late January 2021. Chief Williams says there have been no issues with the equipment so far.
As part of a city-wide effort to upgrade radio communications across agencies, Chief Williams says the new system will be completed for officers by the end of May. The total cost of the multi-year project was about $7.5 million, funded through three entities: Springfield PD, Greene County Sheriff’s Office, and City Utilities.
Springfield police began recording all 58 of the city’s traffic cameras in 2020. Previously, the cameras only operated on a live feed. Williams says he’s been working with MoDOT to do the same, but the implementation has been tied up with MoDOT’s legal team.
Previously, the department had used its two drones for crime scene reconstruction on traffic crashes. The chief says since then, SPD has purchased two new drones that are more compact, have a 4x zoom, a speaker, and heat-seeking technology.
He gave examples of its usefulness during search and rescue of a lost child and patient with Alzheimer’s, as well as during an incident involving a suspect who had threatened his girlfriend with a gun, saying “[We were] able to find out where he was hiding in the yard…and when he went back in the house, which window he was in. We were able to safely take that person into custody because of all the intel we gathered from the drone.”
What is in the works?
This technology is a system of sensors that would detect gunshots in the city to help officers narrow down the location of a gunshot more quickly.
“Gunfire and shots fired calls, and the end result of gunfire continues to be the number one problem here in the city, as far as I’m concerned,” Williams said Tuesday.
City Council would need to approve funding to install the network of sensors. City Council plans to vote on the issue at its meeting on May 3.
Public-Private Security Camera Network
A program Chief Williams wants to encourage business owners and residents to take part in; This network would make it easier for officers conducting investigations to find out which buildings may have security camera footage.
“We are still kind of in the mode of officers go out to investigate a crime scene and officers or detectives are looking around, looking to see where there might be a camera on a building, then trying to figure out the address is, who the owner is, and wasting valuable resources,” said Williams. “There’s certainly no cost to it and we’re not logging into or linking in and there’s no infrastructure. It’s just simply filling out a form saying ‘I have a video surveillance system on a home or business.”
The chief says in the four years since the program has been running, only about 100 cameras of potentially thousands are in the SPD spreadsheet.
Those who want to register their camera’s locations can do so here.
License plate readers
Chief Williams says it plans to switch to WatchGuard in-car cameras in patrol cars, which contain a license plate reader option. When a patrol car is driving down the road, these cameras will run license plates it encounters and look for things like wanted subjects and stolen cars.
“They fully integrate with our body-worn cameras, so you’ll have a seamless transition between the recording of a traffic stop to interaction with a motorist, which was very important to me.”
What are the future ideas?
Less Lethal Options
Chief Williams says something called a ‘BolaWrap’ could be an option to purchase in future budgets. The device is a hand-held remote restraint device that can deploy an 8-foot Kevlar tether to wrap around the subject’s legs and incapacitates them. The chief says it would be useful for Crisis Intervention Officers who deal with people in mental health situations.
“This is really what something like this is for, dealing with someone that we don’t want to have to use force, but as you’ve seen around the country, can sometimes devolve into something where deadly force has to be used. This gives us another option.”