Pinpoint Police Work

Pinpoint Police Work

By Stephen Owsinski

Like a proverbial needle in a haystack, law enforcement officials do their darndest to unearth crucial evidence to solidify cases, using technology enabling pin-point accuracy in police work. Let’s take a look at a few examples…

Recently, several Tampa, Florida police officers engaged in a car chase during which the fleeing fugitive carved a course at high rates of speed…then, oddly, stopped his escape to park on a bridge, exit his auto, and toss an object over the side and into the river below.

What that individual did not realize is that the Tampa Police aviators were involved in the pursuit, aerially calling out details to the patrol officers on the ground. In that context, Tampa Police pilots were able to discern that the suspect flung into the waters below what appeared to be a rifle.

(Screenshot courtesy of the Tampa Police Department.)

Needle in a haystack? Not when police pilots marked coordinates thanks to aviation metrics such as longitude and altitude, subsequently enabling a Tampa Police diver to submerge in the river and recover a rifle from the riverbed, 18 feet down.

Per the Tampa Police blotter: “Keeping our city safe from the skies and on the ground, a couple of nights ago, when officers attempted a traffic stop, the driver fled at a high rate of speed. As they monitored the driver, Aviation Officers captured the suspect discarding two items from the vehicle, one being a rifle that was thrown into the Hillsborough River.

Following a successful traffic stop attempt, officers were able to make contact and take the driver into custody. In addition to ground units locating one of the discarded items, our Dive Team was also able to recover the rifle located approximately 18 feet underwater.”

It’s a great thing that the bad guy didn’t make a stand and exchange gunfire with cops, especially with a high-powered assault rifle.

It’s a bad thing for the bad guy that he foolishly figured no one would be any wiser when he threw the rifle over the bridge’s edge. The likely answer to why he did so is found in the host of criminal charges, namely the one italicized: One Felony Count of Tampering with Physical Evidence, one Felony Count of Fleeing to Elude, and one Felony Count of Felon in Possession of a Firearm.

Exactly where this miscreant rid himself of his rifle is where my patrol car traversed many times. People regularly fish from this bridge, yanking gilled species from the Hillsborough River below. Kids are often next to dads or uncles or other familial faces, casting baited hooks and hoping for a decent catch.

Groups of teens also fish from that bridge. Could you imagine if any youngster’s hook somehow coupled with any part of that rifle, reeling in a likely loaded and volatile weapon? Eek!

Despite anti-police sorts insisting cops operate on shoestring budgets, the expense of technology employed in police work is valued for what it is: Lifesaving.

It all comes together in the end, as trained professional public safety officers use their wares while working together: “Quick response and coordinated efforts from various units proved that we are safer, together!”

Cops working together and coordinating assets is a theme commonly covered by the National Police Association, fulfilling its inherent mission.

“Marking It!”

Similar to the operation we just covered, Tampa cops were involved in another car chase involving firearms being tossed out the window, dangerously discarded on public premises accessible to just about anyone.

With the Tampa Police Aviation Unit’s “Geopoint” navigational capability, metrics pave the way for cops in cruisers to promptly recover and secure into evidence the guns recklessly abandoned by bad actors.

The following footage illustrates this principle a few times…culminating in the criminal meandering his getaway vehicle through the streets of a highly populated university campus, stopping and surrendering in the middle of the road.

Patrol officers in the mix of cop cars involved in a chase will self-divert (or be assigned to do so by a street supervisor) to retrieve the discarded gun(s) in such a situation.

Wanna guess why this criminal tossed his guns out the window? Tampa police included “Felon in Possession of a Firearm (2 counts)” among a litany of other charges, stemming from a “roadway altercation” during which the suspect “shot at occupants in a sedan, and struck a 4-year-old female in the back passenger seat.”

In-house police technology employed by any law enforcement agency’s Forensics Unit enables firearms examiners to scrutinize the tossed guns and unique DNA-like markings of the bullets fired and the guns recovered, matching and declaring their use in the commission of crime(s) via “tool mark identification.”

(Photo courtesy of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners.)

From the folks a Forensic Sciences Simplified, “The range of evidence in firearms-related cases can be as small as a piece of a bullet fragment which has rifling marks or as large as hundreds of bullets and cartridges and numerous firearms. Even from small samples, information can be developed to indicate the type of firearm used and possibly identify the actual firearm that was used.”

High-tech magnifiers such as comparison microscopes and stereo microscopes facilitate tiny details and aid firearms examiners in rendering determinations. Whenever such cases engender trials, certified firearm examiners serve as expert witnesses whose testimony is ordinarily deemed conclusive. Most forensic experts employed by law enforcement agencies are civilians who honed their craft over many years after studiously absorbing the fine points.

“Measuring devices such as calipers and balances are used to weigh and measure bullet evidence. Stereo microscopes are used to determine basic class characteristics of fired bullets, bullet fragments, and cartridges/shotshell cases. A comparison microscope is used for the examination of fired bullets, bullet fragments, and cartridge/shotshell cases,” per the folks at Forensic Sciences Simplified.

The fact that they incorporate the word “Simplified” in their name indicates the tedium encountered by examiners, thus the reliance on technology to get the job done and close cases successfully (justice served).

My agency’s Forensics colleagues walked me through some of their instrumentation, a feature offered to all newly hired police employees. Although not a science guru, I found it fascinating, affording a glimpse of how recovered firepower is subsequently handled in the investigation.

Body-Worn Camera Feats

Lastly, we learn of a little-known (under-reported) feature included by the software engineers who helped invent body-worn camera technology for cops.

Stemming from a violent encounter with a malicious thug, a Tampa cop found himself in the fight for his life…and his mortality hinged on his body-worn camera being astutely accessed by one of the telecommunicators (dispatchers) in the Tampa Police Department Communications Bureau—each certified employee of which is earnestly known as a “lifeline.”

Via a Tampa Police bulletin: “During [Public Safety Telecommunications Supervisor Emily Denny’s] shift, an officer became involved in a violent encounter with a felony suspect. Emily demonstrated remarkable quick thinking by accessing the officer’s body-worn camera, pinpointing his location and, relaying the information to other responding officers. Her quick actions averted potential serious injury to the officer and the swift apprehension of the suspect.”

(Photo courtesy of the Tampa Police Department.)

For her smartness and endowed experience in public safety communications work, Ms. Denny was recognized by her department for using technology to pinpoint the location of an officer in dire need of backup, essentially saving his life via the electronic device donned by many of America’s cops: Body-worn cameras (BWCs).

BWCs have capabilities for cohorts back at Police HQ to interface and get an eye on the environmental scenery.

According to Axon, a major BWC manufacturer, the model used by TPD was “designed to protect officers against ever leaving the support safety net. Not only does it update user locations in real-time with live maps and instant alerts, it also powers bidirectional communications and video livestreams through Axon Respond to ensure officers in the field get the aid they need.”

(Photo courtesy of the Walker County Sheriff’s Office.)

 In the case involving Ms. Denny, she was able to glean the officer’s whereabouts (a LEO not answering their radio while on a call or otherwise is typically a sign of trouble and the officer’s inability to physically respond to dispatchers or squad mates) by sizing up the landscape (businesses, landmarks, street signs, etc.) and directing backup cops to salvage the situation before worst-case scenarios make the news.

These are a mere few examples demonstrating how law enforcement agencies equip their personnel to score success in the crime-fighting business with pinpoint accuracy.