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WPD solicits camera cooperation from business leaders

September 16, 2015



Above: Captain Paul Saucier gives a presentation to business leaders as WPD officer Brian Green mans the Real Time Crime Center's monitors/Steven King photo

Mayor Joe Petty's Small Business Roundtable group seemed impressed with the Worcester Police Department's Real Time Crime Center Sept. 15, as police officials showed off ShotSpotter technology and urged leaders to tell their local business community about the camera collaborative to improve community policing effectiveness – or, in other words, “utilize technology to leverage it as a force multiplier.”

WPD Capt. Paul Saucier said the department has more than 1,000 city-owned and business-owned cameras throughout the city, some with the capability to stream live video to the police department and some registered through crimereports.com so police can track down the camera's owners as part of an investigation. Still, Saucier said the WPD is looking for more businesses to register their cameras to expand the department's network.

Saucier demonstrated the power of the intersection of visual and audio surveillance with a clip of a group of young children in Crystal Park. The choppy video shows the kids sitting on a bench in the moments before gunshots ring out. Business owners were able to hear the shots from Shotspotter at the same time as the kids jumped off the bench and sprinted away, looking backwards. Police showed 13 camera angles in Crystal Park – one of them, Saucier said, showed information that helped police investigate the shooting.

“We visited Boston and other places, and they don't compare to what Worcester has,” Saucier said.

Of course, Worcester didn't always have the advantages Saucier demonstrated.

“I'm glad you didn't have [cameras] in Crystal Park when I was a kid,” one business owner said with a chuckle.

The camera collaborative project was rolled out in June. Shotspotter, which uses strategically-placed sensors to detect gunshots and analyze them in a system monitored 24/7 by workers in California, was proposed and funded back in 2013.

Police told business owners the new technology was working wonders. From May 1, 2014 to April 30, 2015, the WPD was able to identify 193 incidents of gunfire. Only 49 of those had a 911 call attached, which means over 100 gunshot incidents could have gone unnoticed by the WPD if not for Shotspotter.

Police also provided a table of statistics showing, in the same time period, 15 suspects identified, nine suspects arrested, 37 victims identified, three weapons recovered and 180 shell casings recovered in the same time period.

“I know there's been a lot of stuff in the media about a war zone, but it's very few perpetrators and very few victims,” Saucier said.

The perception of Worcester as a suddenly unsafe city stems in part, police and business leaders said, from more brazen daylight shootings in places not used to the urban realities of crime other neighborhoods have been dealing with for decades.

“It can happen anywhere now,” Oak Hill CDC director Mullen Sawyer said. “We've had success moving it out of the key areas, like Main South … I guess that's progress.”

Shotspotter covers six square miles, expanded from three when initial funding came in and the city decided to double the area funded by CSX mitigation money, to widespread approval. Saucier said additional expansion of the program's area would depend on additional funding, saying the current coverage was strategic, covering much of the traditionally high-crime areas of the city. A map displayed to business owners showed Shotspotter boundaries extending from Main South and the East Side to the edges of Green Hill Park, Institute Park, Elm Park and College Hill.

The department is getting grant money to expand their technology reach even further, using a Byrne grant to hire a technology consultant and a crime/intelligence analyst in the near future.

Saucier told another story about leveraging technology to improve policing. Police were after one Worcesterite, who they believe to be dangerous, but didn't want to expose the public to any danger when capturing him. So they used cameras to watch his apartment building, waited until he was in an elevator, confirmed that he pressed the button for the lobby, and had officers waiting to pull him out as soon as the doors opened on the ground floor. The man had a gun on him, Saucier said.

“If we didn't have that technology, that probably would have been a SWAT call, going through his door,” Saucier said.

While Augustus lauded the department for not following the lead of many police departments post 9/11 and militarizing - “buying all the toys,” as he put it – Saucier said the WPD could still use a helping hand in one key area.

“The police can't do it ourselves,” Saucier said. “We need community involvement.”

Saucier also pointed to the WPD's smartphone application, which he called the first standalone app on the East Coast, and the distribution of iPads to officers on patrol as examples of enhanced community policing, facilitating and enhancing the spread of information to the police and from the police to the community.

Worcester Magazine