Solving Crime and Enhancing Community-Policing Using Advanced GPS Tracking Technology

lt-martinez-hi-res-picBy Travis Martinez
Special Operations Bureau Lieutenant with the Redlands Police Department

As the crime rate continues to increase throughout California with communities feeling the effects of prison realignment and Prop. 47, law enforcement agencies across the state are challenged with finding new strategies to address community concerns.

Several police agencies – including the Redlands Police Department (RPD) – appear to have found an effective strategy to leverage GPS technology to address crime trends that are popping up in the community. Since 2011, RPD has made 220 arrests for all sorts of robberies and thefts using motion-activated GPS devices that have the capability of being deployed in the field for up to 21 months.

It may seem as if success is measured by the number of arrests, but the reality is most deployments do not result in apprehensions. When it comes to enhancing community policing and promoting police legitimacy, all deployments are critical, even those that ultimately do not result in an arrest. 

The majority of Redlands’ residents and business owners’ criminal concerns seem to focus around their fear that their property will be stolen when left unattended. Police stakeouts are cost-prohibitive and do not have a high return on investment. Video surveillance cameras often only produce an image of the perpetrator. In an effort to apprehend thieves, police across the nation are turning to specialized GPS technology that alert officers once the property is moved and provides six-second updates indicating the speed and direction of travel. In layman’s terms, it is like have having a 24/7 electronic stakeout minus the man-hours.

When residents and business owners become victims of crime, there is a natural fear that the criminals will return, not to mention the disgust that one feels knowing that somebody violated their personal space. In the past, first responders have been limited to simply making suggestions on how victims can harden the target. In most cases, the victims do not have the money or resources to implement security measures and are left with the hope that the suspects do not return.

When officers conduct the initial crime investigation, they can now offer victims the opportunity to partner with the police department to set up a specialized electronic stakeout in an attempt to apprehend the suspects who victimized them. Research has shown that once you become a crime victim, you are more likely to be re-victimized. Suspects often return to the same location to commit additional crimes, or they may share their success with other people who are intent on driving up the crime rates. In many of the arrests made by RPD, detectives have learned the suspects arrested during the tracker activations were responsible for the crime that initiated the tracker deployment.

At RPD, all GPS tracker deployments are handled by the Community Policing Bureau. Numerous residents and business owners have expressed their appreciation for RPD’s willingness to provide technology in an attempt to apprehend the suspects who victimize them. These people feel empowered by partnering with law enforcement in an effort to keep the community safe and crime free. They appreciate the police department’s initiative to provide technology that helps put criminals behind bars.

The police/community partnership created by deploying an electronic surveillance stakeout strategy greatly enhances community policing and promotes police legitimacy. People now feel that they are working in conjunction with the police department to solve crime and keep the community safe. As a result, the department is investing in the bank of public trust.

In a time in which people can anonymously complain about police services to a worldwide audience via social media using just a few clicks of a computer mouse, RPD has found that several residents will defend the actions of their police department when somebody complains about police services via social media. This phenomenon will only occur when the community genuinely feels that its police department will address all levels of crime.

Interns in the crime analysis department will contact victims of a residential burglary and explain to them RPD’s “While You’re Away Program.” If residents are planning a vacation, they can submit an application via the department’s website to have a volunteer conduct a daily property check at their house, but they can also complete an application on-line and pick up a laptop equipped with one of the hi-tech GPS devices at the police department. The resident will then deploy the laptop on the kitchen table prior to leaving for vacation. If somebody breaks into the house while they are gone, he or she would most likely steal the laptop, or at least move it, causing immediate notification to the dispatch center.

The homeowners now have peace of mind that their residence is virtually protected by electronic surveillance, 24-hours a day, seven days a week while they are away. Participants have expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the police department knowing that if somebody were to break in, the department would respond immediately. Although the department conducts this service free of charge, residents have donated up to $200 apiece to help sustain the program and purchase additional devices. As word spreads throughout the community about the service, RPD’s police legitimacy within the community has strengthened. This program is now being replicated at police departments across the nation.

Police departments are consistently looking for ways to partner with the community to help keep the community safe and reduce crime. The GPS tracking device program at RPD has enabled the department to enhance its community policing program and increase its police legitimacy while at the same time enabling RPD to apprehend criminals.

The strategy has led to many success stories at RPD, including: the apprehension of a prolific armed robber that was taking store clerks captive and forcing them at gunpoint to open the store safe; the arrest of a commercial burglar that was targeting pharmacies in the Inland Empire stealing Oxycotin; and the capture of two subjects that were stealing items from children’s gravesites at the cemetery.

As police departments across the nation are challenged to provide exceptional service despite budgetary cutbacks, GPS tracking programs are a proven strategy for police departments to enhance their community policing and bolster their community relations. As evidenced by the success of police agencies nationwide utilizing a similar strategy, GPS technology has become a key strategy of police departments across the nation.

 

Lt. Travis Martinez is the Special Operations Bureau Lieutenant of the Redlands Police Department and can be contacted at tmartinez@redlandspolice.org.

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