Earlier this month, while walking to her car, a University of Memphis graduate student was stabbed in the thigh and robbed. Campus security cameras caught the attack on tape, and a few days later, Zachariah Judge and his girlfriend/accomplice Valerie Jones were arrested.
Though the camera was installed by the U of M, that crime-fighting tactic may soon spread across the city. Last week, Memphis mayor Willie Herenton requested the City Council earmark $700,000 in next year's budget for a Memphis Police Department (MPD) Real Time Crime Center. The center would combine video surveillance with sophisticated data systems and software.
"We'll have Sky Cop cameras, which have the capability of triangulating gunshots," says MPD spokesperson Vince Higgins. "Say there's a camera posted on Tennessee Street and a shooting occurs within a block of the Flyer office. A Sky Cop camera would sense where that shot came from. It would then turn to that area and that video would feed into the Real Time Crime Center."
Officers stationed in the crime center headquarters, to be located at the Urban Child Institute at 600 Jefferson, will be able to watch the footage on a large video wall. Officers could even be dispatched to the location before anyone calls to report the shooting.
"The cameras are totally mobile. They'll be posted throughout the city where the need is greatest," says Higgins. "That will be determined at our weekly Blue Crush meetings when we're pinning down crime hotspots."
Other cameras designed to spot stolen car tags will be placed on patrol cars.
"The camera will read tags as it passes cars, so even if the officer is preoccupied, the cameras will notify the officer that the car or tag is stolen," says Higgins.
But the Real Time Crime Center encompasses more than video surveillance. Using special software, police will receive instant information on recent criminal activity in a radius around a crime, existing crime patterns in the neighborhood, and a history of people with arrest records who may frequent the area.
"Investigators headed to the scene will have the ability to take that real-time information gathered from all those sources," says Higgins.
The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has been operating its $11 million Real Time Crime Center since 2005. The center draws information from New York state criminal records, parole and probation files, as well as city criminal complaints, arrest records, and 911 calls. MPD director Larry Godwin toured the NYPD facility last December.
With Blue Crush databases already in place, Higgins says much of the work for the local Real Time Crime Center is complete.
"Instead of buying someone's software to get this started, we have people on our staff who are able to write the software specific to Memphis," says Higgins. "We're not buying a system that was used in New York and then trying to make it work in Memphis."
Though Herenton requested $700,000 from the city, additional funding for the center is expected to come from grants.