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Maximizing Efficiency and Safety Through Real-Time Technology

Success Spotlight

NASA has its Mission Control Center to guide space flights. Airports have air traffic control towers to manage air traffic. But until recently, police departments have not had access to central technology centers that guide and support officers as they respond to 911 calls and arrive at crime scenes. That is changing fast—and the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Police Department is one of the agencies creating its own real-time information hub.   

The Tulsa Police Department received Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) training and technical assistance in 2018 through the National Public Safety Partnership (PSP). Tulsa also received a BJA FY 23 National Public Safety Partnership—Capacity Building Grant that helps support the Real Time Information Center (RTIC) project.

Getting Started

When Tulsa became part of the PSP program in 2018, one of the assessment recommendations was to create a real-time information center for the city, according to Captain Jacob Johnston with the Tulsa Police Department’s Police Information Technology Division.

PSP assessments identified technology and crime analysis as two of three key initiative areas for Tulsa. The decision was made to move ahead on the long-term goal of setting up and running a real-time information center that would drive both the technology and crime analysis needs, says Bill Taylor, Senior Advisor, Justice Research and Innovation, for BJA training and technical assistance (TTA) provider CNA

As a first step, Tulsa law enforcement staff who were part of the PSP work group visited real-time crime centers in Las Vegas, Baltimore, Memphis, and Fort Worth. The staff members were very excited about building a similar center for Tulsa, says Johnston, who oversees operations for Tulsa’s RTIC.

Every real-time center is unique to its agency, says Johnston. “In all the conversations I've had, I’ve never found two that are alike.” The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the launch a bit, but shortly afterward, Johnston was brought in to help push forward the PSP technology assessment plans for Tulsa, enabling the center to open in 2023. 

To assist in providing focused expertise, PSP held a number of communities of practice (or groups sharing a common interest in a professional field), and one of those was focused on technology which brought the technologists of all the departments from PSP participating cities together for peer learning, says Valerie Schmitt, Research Scientist for CNA and PSP program advisor for Tulsa. As part of PSP’s TTA, Tulsa PD attended the communities of practices and learned about new technologies, how to implement the new technologies, and how to engage partners and the community, she says.

Tech Center Set Up

Tulsa’s RTIC has three components: (1) computers with databases and records management systems; (2) external technology, such as the license plate detection cameras and gunshot detection devices around the city; and (3) staff monitoring all incoming information and communicating with law enforcement personnel.

Tulsa’s license plate detection (LPD) system is fundamental to RTIC operations. “License plate readers are probably the best tool since they put radios in the hands of officers,” says Johnston. Through LPD, officers have access to tag numbers and vehicle images, so they know the vehicle’s type and color, helping them to narrow down searches. Automated license plate readers (ALPRs) are only one part of the investigative process. ALPR systems do not have facial recognition and cannot identify any individual or any personally-identifiable information about an individual.

Having the right staff working in the center is vital. In addition to their technical expertise, staff specialists have backgrounds that include dispatch, FBI, and corrections experience. Currently, there are seven full-time RTIC specialists, with plans to bring in five additional staff members and three supervisors so the center can extend hours from 7:30 a.m.–1:30 a.m. to a full 24/7 operation. 

Focused Support 

A major emphasis is ensuring that the RTIC supports every officer in all three of Tulsa’s uniformed divisions. The three divisions have their own dispatchers and their own radio channels, so ensuring the RTIC staff are designated to support all of Tulsa’s operations is critical.

Ninety percent of the RTIC’s work focuses on responding to 911 calls for service and sharing call and database records information with officers before they arrive at the scene. This information is communicated through radio and the mobile computer aided dispatch (CAD) system, equipping the officers with the necessary information to help them prepare for what they may encounter at the scene.  

Real-time information is also used to provide investigative support immediately after a scene is determined to be safe and secure, says Johnston, when people at the scene start asking more questions. The tech team at the RTIC center is focused on that event, unlike the 911 dispatcher, who needs to continue dispatching incoming calls. As a result, Johnston notes, “We get to focus on a little bit longer assist.”

Measuring Success

“We’ve had tremendous success with our Real Time Information Center,” says Johnston. While the program is new, it’s already helping to reduce crime and assist victims. “Tulsa is near 100 percent in solve rates for homicides this year, and I think that technology plays a huge role in that,” according to Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin in a Tulsa RTIC video

For example, when live-view cameras record shootings in high-crime areas, the footage comes in to the RTIC. Specialists in the center can immediately share that video footage with officers on patrol, allowing them to view it as they’re traveling to the scene. Center specialists also save the video to a shared platform that’s accessible for all officers and supervisors to view. 

RTIC technology also assists Tulsa with events such as locating missing persons. Recently, an elderly person went missing while driving a car. When the call came in, the call information was sufficient for the team to identify the vehicle using the LPD system and see the direction the person was driving. Rather than driving around looking for the person, officers were able to go directly to the person and get them safely home. That kind of technological success with non-criminal incidents is as important as it is for violent crime, says Johnston. 

Next Steps 

Support for real-time crime centers is expanding nationally, and Johnston encourages opportunities for agencies to collaborate about resources and experiences. Tulsa is now hosting people who want to build a real-time crime center, and it’s good to be able to share advice, he adds. 

Having these centers allows law enforcement to improve efficiencies, precision, and overcome staffing shortages, Johnston adds. Empowering officers to reduce the incident-to-arrest timeframe also reduces the risk to the community when there’s a suspect at large. 

“I’m very excited about what’s available to us,” said Johnston.

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Date Published: March 28, 2024