The Mesa Police Department

The Mesa Police Department is already working with some Ring camera owners, but hopes to incorporate more into its Real Time Crime Center. 

Criminals operating in Mesa might want to make sure their hair is combed and clothes are tidy: soon, they may be on Mesa Police Department cameras.

This isn’t “Cops,” but it could be “Criminals.”

At a study session Thursday, police outlined plans for a Real Time Crime Center.

Though not likely to provide “Candid Camera”-style laughs, it could lead to arrests.

By the end of this year, police here say they want to go “24/7” with a video monitoring system the department already is dabbling in.

The police want to have a center where they can monitor video feeds from Circle Ks and other businesses, parks, traffic cameras and even Ring cameras showing porch pirates and break-in artists.

At the study session, Pat Phelps of technical services, and Police Commander Bob Rash pitched the idea as a lead-up to the Mesa City Council meeting tomorrow, June 21, when the Police Department will ask for $1 million for hardware and software to power up a high-tech video surveillance system.

Rash gave an example of current capabilities that sounded straight out of a Tom Cruise futuristic crimefighter flick.

An officer was monitoring video at Pioneer Park, Rash said, when he saw a man being

attacked.

“The officer watched a violent crime take place and was able to put that information out immediately,” Rash said. “Within a minute, a minute-and-a-half tops, officers responded and apprehended the suspect before he left the park. 

“A very serious violent crime –  attempted homicide –  was solved very quickly because of that camera system. 

“That’s what we envision taking more globally city wide with the real time crime center operation.”

Put Mayor John Giles down as “very intrigued.”

“I totally buy into using more CCTV (closed-circuit television, a.k.a ‘surveillance video’) to help with the police department’s mission,” Giles said. 

Then, he fired off a string of questions: “Is there going to be 24/7 surveillance? Somebody sitting in a command center? Or just as calls come up zooming from one part of the city to another? How is this going to function?”

The answers, from Rash: “The Real Time Crime Center will be on the third floor of the Police Department … We’re going to do some minor restructuring. Ultimately, the goal is to staff it 24/7.”

To start, he said, staff will monitor video feeds in areas and times that typically have the most 911 calls.

“We will have a Real Times Crime Center operator who is monitoring and has access to all cameras that live-feed into the center,” he said.

That operator will be able to “beam” video to the cell phones and laptops of officers closest to crimes.

“Ideally, officers as they are responding to emergency calls for service, they’re getting live footage of suspects (and) suspect vehicles even before they arrive on the scene,” Rash said.

Eager musings from Vice Mayor Jen Duff about Ring and other security cameras suggest the city may recruit stay-at-home crime watchers who might be called “digital deputies.”

Duff noted her own recent experience in helping fight crime: 

“I watched a drug deal go down a couple days ago, snapped a photo of the license plate and recorded that,” she said.

She said she has a Ring camera at her home, and hopes others who are eager to help crime can send their videos to the police department.

“I know our residents are really a valuable tool in combating crime in their neighborhoods,” Duff said. “However, we can integrate with them and empower them to help us I think will certainly minimize the crimes when we have a lot of eyes on our properties.”

Rash noted detectives monitor the Neighborhood app and other social media sites on which residents post video of crimes.

“With Ring, we have a relationship … we are notified of those cameras registered with the police department,” he added.

Phelps said the police department has a two-pronged approach to community video.

“One is a live feed program that is really geared to businesses, Circle K for example. We can work with them to gain access to live video that would feed to the Real Time Crime Center,” he said.

The other part of the program that is largely untapped are those digital detectives in their homes.

“With home security cameras, they (could) register with us … If there’s an incident in a location we can look at it on a map and say, ‘Oh, there’s three citizen cameras in the area that are registered’ and reach out to them. Then there’s a method to upload that directly through a portal,” he said.

Combining home and business video with the city’s parks and traffic cameras made Phelps pretty giddy:

“The goal is to take all these different things out there and unify them … Take all those things that currently exist and unify them in a way that increases the speed in which we can receive and process that intelligence.”

Councilman Kevin Thompson asked about oversight “to insure somebody’s not sitting there cruising through live videos of our community.”

Rash said a combination of technology and human eyes will police the police.

“We will have supervision and audit capabilities to ensure the privacy of everyone is preserved,” he promised.

And, he added, the video feeds to the center would be from public locations: “We’re not talking about residential locations and the inside of backyards.”

Giles, Duff, Thompson and the rest of City Council will vote on moving ahead into high-tech policing during the meeting at 5:45 p.m. Monday.

According to materials supporting the police department request, “The RTCC will be a centralized law enforcement technology center ... It will serve as the department’s resource hub, supporting intensive law enforcement efforts to prevent crime and provide effective and efficient police service to the community, while prioritizing citizen and officer safety. 

“The benefits of the RTCC include real time intelligence, quick identification and apprehension of criminals, video evidence to enhance prosecution, crime prevention and reduction, and increased community perception of public safety.”

The Mesa Police Department is also asking Mesa City Council to approve a five-year, $8 million contract for Axon police cameras, first used by the force in 2012.

This will replace current cameras and add 211 new cameras.

The department has 458 body cameras “issued to all patrol officers, motor officers, select investigative units and SWAT armored vehicles,” according to a presentation. 

The new cameras will go to special operations officers, field sergeants and school resource officers.

The contract also includes an upgrade of “controlled electrical” Taser weapons, “used to incapacitate dangerous subjects or to gain lawful control of combative subjects.”

It will cost $2 million for the first year and $1.5 million for subsequent years. ′

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