Big Brother on Beale Street 

Memphis police test the Real Time Crime Center during Memphis in May events.

Saturday night, five police officers stood on a platform overlooking hip-hop group Arrested Development's performance at the Beale Street Music Festival. But that didn't stop a group of fans near the stage from lighting up a joint during the band's cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song."

Fortunately for the fans, the marijuana smoke must not have drifted to the police perch, because the joint went around uninterrupted. However, if they had known about the Memphis Police Department (MPD) test of the new $3.5 million Real Time Crime Center this weekend, the fans might have thought twice before toking.

As part of the test, hidden and unconcealed cameras were posted throughout Tom Lee Park and around the Beale Street area over the weekend. Those cameras fed into the new state-of-the-art crime center, housed in a secret location, where 10 officers watched video feed on 42 different display screens.

"If [crime center officers] see a crime occur, they're able to get that information to officers out in the field within minutes through their PDAs," said Monique Martin, public affairs officer for the MPD. "It helps us catch suspects and stay on top of any crime patterns that may be occurring in the area."

Inside the center, staffers track crime patterns using the MPD Blue Crush technology, which displays the most recent crime locations on a computer-generated map. This can help officers track a suspect committing multiple crimes in an area.

Though the MPD has been testing elements of the center for several weeks, the Beale Street Music Festival marks the first time all the center's components were utilized at the same time.

Last year's event netted 78 total arrests. This year, there were only 42 misdemeanor arrests and six felony arrests in the Beale Street area. Charges ranged from public intoxication and disorderly conduct to drug possession and DUI.

Martin said the crime center also will play an important role in tracking crime during the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest later this month. As with the Beale Street Music Fest, the barbecue event will be heavily patrolled.

"A citizen is not going to be able to turn any corner downtown without seeing an officer in a patrol car, on a bicycle, on a scooter, or on foot," Martin said. "And we'll have some officers working out there in plain clothes."

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