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Hagerstown Police get $900K to build public safety grid

Seemingly independent systems would be transformed into crime-fighting network

September 08, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER
  • Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith
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Federal grant money will help the Hagerstown Police Department build a cutting-edge public safety grid across the city.

HPD recently received a $900,000 technology grant, its largest in a decade, from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, according to Police Chief Arthur Smith.

Smith said the police department will use the money during the next three years to build a public safety information grid to connect seemingly independent systems into a single crime-fighting network.

Capt. Mark Holtzman said the grid concept, patterned after a similar initiative in East Orange, N.J., solves the question of how to take the police department's computer, radio, in-car, video camera and other systems, and build bridges to maximize efficiency.

At the heart of the grid will be video cameras, he said.

Hagerstown has about 30 fixed-video cameras downtown that record activity and serve as an investigative resource, Holtzman said.

HPD hopes to spend about one-third of the grant ($300,000) to double the amount of cameras downtown, Smith said.

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It also plans to purchase thermal imagers, in-car cameras, a supervisor command vehicle camera and moveable cameras, according to the budget detail for the grant.

Another third of the money ($300,192) will fund hiring civilian employees, Smith said.

A provision of the grant allows HPD to hire civilians, or nonsworn staff, to administer the technology, he said. The police department also plans to use the grant to pay the salary and benefits of its crime analyst for the next three years, he said.

Holtzman said the police department plans to build a camera-monitoring site in the police station lobby. Dispatchers currently watch the camera feeds in addition to their police dispatch duties, he said.

Actively monitoring the camera feeds will be key, he said.

"The overall intent of the grid is to reduce crime and improve public safety, and increase the efficiencies within the police department," he said.

The new civilian staff will actively monitor the cameras and link officers to live feeds or still photos when necessary, he said.

A portion of the grant will pay to engineer software to "push" the video to computers in police cruisers, Holtzman said.

Mapping software will help the department more effectively dispatch officers to incidents, and social networking crime alerts will inform the public of incidents in as close to real time as possible, he said.

Smith said the grant also will fund the department's research to evaluate the effectiveness of the grid.

Other highlights of the grant include:

o Pocket Cops handheld devices for bike and foot patrol officers to quickly access information

o Smart boards

o Laptop computers

o Mobile data terminals

o E-ticket technology to electronically issue moving violations

o Command central crime reports software and intranet crime issues

o Upgrades to existing cameras and video enhancements.

HPD is waiting for the Department of Justice to approve the items it hopes to purchase with the grant, but Smith said he anticipates approval in early October.

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