Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Tampa Police launches new crime-tracking software for officers

TAMPA — The bashed A/C window unit was the first sign that something was amiss in the locked, empty office on Kennedy Boulevard. • Property manager Gerard Scalzo walked inside to discover a ransacked room. Some cash, a set of keys and audio-visual equipment were gone. • Scalzo called police. They arrived and began investigating. • That afternoon, officers nabbed the suspect.

"I didn't think it would happen that fast," Scalzo said.

Tampa police attributed the speedy arrest to SAFECOP, a new software system that allows them to track crime patterns and communicate faster while on the road.

"There frankly will be no place where any criminal will be able to hide from law enforcement," said Chief Jane Castor during a news conference Friday morning.

SAFECOP lets officers view city maps with color-coded dots that show reported property crimes and the locations where they were committed.

Before the program was installed, officers relied on an analyst to compile the information every week.

"How can you get that information out to the officers in real time? That's how SAFECOP came in," Castor said. "All of that information is at the officer's fingertips."

The software also includes a "blog" feature that lets officers keep better track of case updates, helping them in "avoiding redundancies" in their investigations, said Assistant Chief John Bennett.

Police can now also send out alerts — such as a suspect's description — within seconds. Before, it took hours, sometimes even days, to send alerts out to officers on patrol.

That's where the program worked during the Sept. 5 burglary at the Kennedy Boulevard office. Officers took a photograph of the suspect captured in surveillance video and sent it out to the department. Hours later, they found and arrested the burglar.

Lanny Ray Marler, 33, faces burglary and petty theft charges. He remained at the Hillsborough County jail Friday afternoon in lieu of $2,500 bail.

Police launched SAFECOP, developed by the company NC4, during the Republican National Convention. Funded by a security grant received for the convention, it cost $400,000.

Castor said the software helped cut crime citywide by 26 percent during the RNC with a total of 257 offenses. During the same time period last year, 349 offenses were reported.

Fewer people also were booked into the jail, but the lack of warrant roundups may also have been a contributor.

Officials said SAFECOP will become available to the nine nearby counties, including Pinellas and Pasco, involved in the Urban Areas Security Initiative next year. The program was created by the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said his agency won't look into trying SAFECOP because deputies already use a similar system.

In Tampa, more than 700 officers are utilizing the program, and the rest will receive training within the next two weeks.

"This will revolutionize the way we do policing," Castor said.

Staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727)893-8713 or [email protected]

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