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DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier Describes How Technology Is Changing Police Work in the Capitol

February 25, 2010

Technology has had a significant impact in streamlining the work of Washington D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). This was the message conveyed by D.C. MPD Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier yesterday during a lunchtime address to the attendees at AFCEA's Homeland Security Conference. In her three-year tenure as police chief, Chief Lanier has worked to revamp what she described as an antiquated, paper-driven record-keeping and reporting system. She explained that when she became chief in 2007, all police reports were written by hand and hand-delivered by police officers across the department. At that time, the police chief also had no real-time means to assess the readiness of her personnel or what the overall operational picture was. In the early days of her tenure, Chief Lanier related that the only computerized system for mapping crime involved logging in the addresses of the previous day's crimes into Google Maps and sending police officers to cover the affected areas. The MPD also suffered from internal stovepipes, where different departments did not communicate with each other or with other regional police departments. However, over the last three years, Chief Lanier has steadily computerized her department. She noted that the police department is now almost completely paperless and that all police cruisers are equipped with computers allowing officers to electronically fill out and submit reports from a crime scene. The MPD also uses new technology such as imagery from close-circuit television cameras set up around the city, automated license plate readers and shot-spotter devices that detect and report gunfire. The added technology has improved the department's efficiency. Chief Lanier notes that response times for service calls are down by 24 percent, although she adds that the number of calls has increased. District police commanders also receive quarterly crime reports designed to allow police to deploy officers in potential trouble spots to deter crime. Added efficiency and responsiveness has also cut down on crime. Chief Lanier said that the 2008-2009 time period saw the lowest number of car crash fatalities in 30 years. 2009 also marked a 23 percent drop in homicides in Washington, the lowest murder rate since 1966, she said. Additionally, the closure rate for homicides in the district has risen to 75.5 percent. Chief Lanier noted that rapid arrests were important, especially in gang-related crimes because it prevented murder spikes from retaliatory killings. The MPD has also launched online initiatives to partner and communicate with the community. Chief Lanier shared that the department has established listserves that allow citizens to communicate with police officials. The MPD listserv currently has 10,159 members, she said. In an effort to reach out to young people and those without computers, the police department also established a text tip line. She said that the number of tips has risen from 292 in 2008 to 805 in 2009, adding that the tips provided substantial details about homicides or potential crimes such as school shootings. The MPD also established a fusion center, which is responsible for the national capitol region. From a homeland security perspective, Chief Lanier said that the center collects and stores crime and terror alerts into a data warehouse. She noted that if identified terror suspects attempted to enter the capitol, their vehicles could be tracked with the department's automated license plate readers. Chief Lanier added that as a police officer, she sees crime and terrorism as interrelated because for a terrorist attack to succeed, some crime such as falsified documents and illegally obtained explosives must be committed during the process. The fusion center focuses the police department's response to terrorism and crime, she said. She closed by noting that the MPD is also involved in a variety of cross-border initiatives with the other police departments in the capitol region. One such effort, with Maryland state and local police departments, features a software modification that allows D.C. and Maryland police officers to use a common dashboard for sharing crime data between jurisdictions.  "It's a completely different day for D.C." she said.

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