Friday, June 26, 2015


By Marc Weber Tobias

June 25, 2015

Police departments around the country have been quietly implementing a powerful crime-fighting tool that promises to be the equal of DNA forensics in identifying and finding criminals. Even more importantly, it will provide information that will help prevent criminal activity and deadly traffic accidents.

The technology is called DDACTS, which is an acronym for Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety. It involves mounting on the roof of a police car three high-resolution digital cameras positioned to point forward and cover both sides of the vehicle. Each is equipped with infrared lighting which enables them to see in the dark. GPS is integrated into the system, and the digitized pictures of license plates are fed as they are captured to a laptop within the vehicle.

When police officers begin their shift, they download, via a high-speed WiFi hotspot at their station, the latest database of wanted vehicles, fugitive warrants, suspended or revoked drivers licenses, state and federal criminal databases, stolen cars, and other information on bad guys. These files are updated every four hours and allow the integration of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) cameras with criminal indices at the local, state, and national level for instant hits on cars. FBI statistics indicated that a majority of felony stops occur in vehicles, so the system in effect preselects targets of opportunity.

Denver has been a big advocate of the DDACTS system. Since taking office in 2011, Denver Police Chief Robert White has made it a priority to deploy new crime-fighting tech as its population continues to skyrocket. I was in Denver last week and was shown its DDACTS set-up, which costs $11,000 for each vehicle. You can watch my interview with Denver police commander Paul Pazen, who is the most knowledgeable within the department about the program.

Denver has trained more than a hundred officers on how to best use the new tool. It could drastically increase the effectiveness of field officers by not only giving the patrolman three more sets of eyes, but by doing things instantly with those additional eyes that no police officer could hope to accomplish alone. As a cop drives through his or her district, those cameras capture, read, and process hundreds of plates. More than 835,000 license plates have been read into Denver P.D.’s image database in the past two months. That has resulted in moe than 17,000 hits. The information is stored for 364 days before being permanently purged.

The system has proven invaluable as an investigative tool, as well as for analyzing crime and traffic safety patterns. For example, when there is gang activity or a major crime scene, a DDACTS-equipped vehicle will cruise the area, night or day, and record any and every vehicle within proximity. This allows detectives and field officers to identify potential witnesses and suspects for later investigation. Commander Pazen also stressed the importance of predicting high traffic-accident areas for special attention and enforcement.

While some advocates have voiced privacy concerns about the new system, they are unfounded, according to Commander Pazen, because the system does not track individual vehicles. It only logs those cars that it sees, so it is random. However, that may be about to change in an adjacent jurisdiction of Aurora, Colo. That city of about 350,000, which is on the eastern border of Denver, is in the process of installing fixed cameras at key intersections that will do the same thing as DDACTS and feed information into Denver and other jurisdictions to alert them of wanted vehicles that may be entering their cities.

While Denver was the first city in Colorado to implement this new crime-fighting tool, many others will follow. Some cities, such as Los Angeles, have been using license plate readers for several years, but newly enhanced camera technology, coupled with OCR and data base integration have greatly enhanced the ability of law enforcement to increase its effectiveness. So if you are a criminal in Denver or one of the cities that are implementing DDACTS, you should know that not only police officers, but their cars are looking for and can instantly identify you day or night if there is any link between you and your vehicle license plate. The system will store the location of where your vehicle plate is captured and provide an instant notification that you or your car are wanted. If you are driving, then your chances of getting caught are greatly increased.

The next step will be facial recognition, which is already in use in several jurisdictions in the U.S. and in Europe. I am not sure whether Aldous Huxley would be surprised, shocked, or pleased about the use of technology to change the way we catch criminals, but it is clear that law enforcement is being radically changed by technology in terms of its ability to identify and apprehend offenders.

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