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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Better police work through technology

Santa Clara had a bike theft problem last summer and into the fall. There had been a number of incidents where people jumped fences or climbed up onto balconies to steal them. There are a bunch of trails and other nontraditional ways to get around, so catching these criminals wasn't exactly easy.

Fortunately, someone had a good idea and applied technology to the situation. They already have the means to track cash bags and other items of high value from places like convenience stores and banks. The devices can be activated any number of ways, and it sends out a signal which can then be tracked.

There are receivers mounted on a bunch of their patrol vehicles and even more on a few fixed sites around town. This way, even if none of those patrol vehicles are out in the field, they can still figure out about where something might be happening. It's then a trivial matter to swap out cars and zoom out there to track down the target.

They used this technology to wire up a few bicycles, and then put them in a few choice locations where the crime had been happening. It didn't seem to take too long for someone to take the bait. One November morning around 2:30, dispatch noticed a hot signal and it was being received at three different sites.

At first, they didn't see much in the way of movement and it was hard to pinpoint. This was just from the fixed receivers since units hadn't gotten in position with receiver vehicles yet. They got a few cars in the general area and started patrolling. A fixed receiver in San Jose lit up during this, so they looped in their police force as well.

Before long, there were units from both cities patrolling the area. All pointers indicated an area where the two cities are divided by a river with levee trails on either side. Around 3 AM, a San Jose PD unit got a fairly strong signal on the Santa Clara side of the river. It's hard to say exactly what happened next, but it sure sounds like he drove up on the levee somehow and started chasing them!

I can tell this because there's a foot/bike bridge at one point, and the officer says "I can't get my car over that bridge". Of course, at the same time, Santa Clara just happened to have a unit down in the culdesac beneath that bridge running plates on a pickup truck. As soon as they popped up, he gave chase.

Ultimately, they managed to catch these guys, and that pickup truck was affiliated. It was a coordinated thing, and they were just moments away from loading it up and peeling out.

Between the "Find my iPhone" chases and this direction-finding craziness, it should be obvious that you don't want to steal stuff in Santa Clara. I haven't even talked about the whole automatic license plate scanning thing. If a wanted plate rolls by, look out!

How do I know this? I listen and learn.