I can now bring you yesterday’s blog today at tomorrow’s prices.
My plan yesterday was to cover my recent visit to the Memphis Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center, but I had a little problem emailing myself some photos, so I wrote about a farewell to a friend. She left work, left town and will leave the state in a few days.
Anyway, last week I got the assignment to head down to the RTCC with videographer Ryan Goble. We were getting video and interviews with some of the people that operate various parts of the Center, modeled after the one developed by the NYPD in the years following 9/11. The Center is in a nondescript building somewhere in the city of Memphis. It’s not a secret location, but they don’t want to broadcast it either.
The city’s top cop will be heading to a conference full of top cops next month, and I guess they wanted to show off the system that has actually helped the police lower the city’s crime rate. Director Larry Godwin met with Richard Janikowski, a criminology professor from the University of Memphis and asked for ways to use data mining in real time to help police commanders better direct their resources. The center’s been in operation for over a year now, and it seems that it, along with other efforts, are making a dent in crime.
Ryan and I met up with Major Susan Lowe and she directed us through our day, taking pictures all the while. The major handles a lot of the educational and communication information for the department. One of the people we talked to was Maj. Jim Harvey, technology manager for the MPD.
One of the things he was telling us about are the License Plate Recognition cameras installed on a number of squad cars around the city. That’s right. A camera that automatically reads any license plates around the police car and searches various databases to find out whether the car (and driver, by extension) is inside or outside of the law. Information comes up on a terminal inside the car, letting the officer know whether the person belonging to the plate in question has any outstanding legal issue. So if you’ve got any outstanding tickets, I’d suggest paying them.
We then interviewed John Harvey, Jim’s older brother. He’s MPD Technology Consultant at the center, joining it after retiring from a long career in the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He actually writes many of the computer programs in use at the RTCC, coming up with some things on his own, and developing others on the suggestion of Director Godwin, who must not sleep, because on top of his other responsibilities, he often suggests new technologies to look into.
You may have seen some of the unmanned SkyCops around the city. Cameras in the towers can beam live pictures back to the Real Time Crime Center, giving the police extra eyes on hot spots around the city. Several were at the fairgrounds following the Ole Miss/Memphis game and were left in place for the Southern Heritage Classic. They tell me that there was a single car break-in during the Ole Miss game. Just one… and you know the parking lots around the Liberty Bowl were jam-packed. They also told me that crime in the area of one of the tower cameras usually drops to zero.
There are also the SkyWatch towers. They use them on Beale Street a lot. There’s room inside for one officer, usually outfitted with binoculars and a radio. Between the towers and stationary cameras around town, they see a lot of stuff. While we were in the center, officers spotted a entrepreneur on Beale charging for parking at a lot he didn’t have any connection to. They were able to keep an eye on him and the couple he tried to scam.
I have to say that whenever I’ve hear Director Godwin on Drake & Zeke (6am to 10am on WXMX, 98.1 the Max… got you covered Jess!), I’ve always been impressed with his approach to law & order. Here’s a man who knew that he wanted to be a Memphis police officer when he was 10 years old. Family tragedy has a way of crystallizing one’s thoughts and goals. He joins the police after he gets out of the Marine Corps. And he’s been on the force since 1973 (I was still in high school when he first put on a badge!). Here’s the kicker; of all the officers I met with, Godwin was probably the oldest — but looked like he was in the best shape of any of them!
There are tons more technology the police are using to make their jobs more efficient (and therefore more effective). Godwin has shown a lot of imagination and creativity to go along with his good sense. I think this is a guy the city is lucky to have where he happens to be right now. I hope our next mayor (whoever that is) is smart enough to hold onto this guy as long as possible.