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Technology Will Allow LAPD To Protect and Serve Efficiently

Technology Will Allow LAPD To Protect and Serve Efficiently

#4: TECH COPS

Los Angeles is not quite as dangerous a city as it was several years ago. A new report, in fact, suggests that when poverty rates are taken in account, L.A. winds up 42nd among 67 large American cities in 2003 homicide rates, down from 24th the year before.

Homicides in L.A. dropped 21.6 percent in 2003 from the previous year, while total violent crimes, which also include rape, robbery, aggravated assault and spousal or child abuse, fell 6 percent in the like period.

But let there be no doubt, parts of L.A. remain very dangerous places to live and work, and Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton believes that putting more cops on the street would go a long way to stemming that danger.

The department’s often-quoted pipe dream is for as many as 6,000 additional officers. This is not going to happen in the near term perhaps ever. With the state still facing a budget crisis that will, in part, be absolved by siphoning money from cities’ coffers, Bratton must face up to today’s reality. His budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 asks for only 30 additional officers, after the L.A. City Council turned down his request for 320 last year.

Those 30 new positions hardly put a dent in the current ratio of 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents compared with three or four officers for other major cities.

So Bratton and his staff must continue to pick and choose their spots with an emphasis on community policing, anti-gang units and homeland security while at the same time developing a longer-term master plan that will give the department enough technology to allow more cops to leave their paper-shuffling desk jobs and go back to the streets.

There are a host of technology enhancements available. Among them:

– Officers typing police reports straight from their vehicle computer into a database, keeping them in the field longer.

– Vehicles equipped with radio systems that share frequency bandwidth with the city’s other emergency service departments, to better coordinate first-response efforts.

– A correlated database system that provides officers with information on suspects. Today, the information is on separate systems; the traffic computer, for instance, does not tell officers if a driver is wanted for a serious crime.

– A statewide all-felony database similar to the one used in Virginia. California’s system focuses only on violent crimes. “Burglars can also be the suspects in rapes, robberies and homicide,” said former police chief and current Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks.

DNA evidence from saliva, perspiration, blood and other body fluids is making fingerprinting and other evidence-gathering techniques less useful. So there will be a stronger call from law enforcement and the general public to have samples from all prisoners.

All these advances provide exciting possibilities for law enforcement. But it takes money, lots of it; the above-mentioned wish list could easily run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The federal government can supply some funding, but the more likely method of financing a wholesale makeover is through bond measures that must be passed by voters.

Since taking office in 2002, Bratton has managed to get much of his agenda in place, but much of it involved operational restructuring that doesn’t require much investment. The challenge for him will be to convince skeptical elected officials and the public that modernizing the department will be money worth spending.

It’s not impossible. Technology, in fact, can ultimately enhance workplace productivity and make police operations more efficient without having to hire thousands of officers or support staff. In that way, Angelenos could look at the investment in technology as a pretty good deal.

TECH COPS

Proposal: Upgrading the LAPD with more officers and state-of-the-art technology

Obstacles: State budget crisis and possible taxpayer resistance

Cost: Hundreds of millions of dollars

Time Frame: Five years or more

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