Community Oriented Policing (COP) has been a rapidly growing trend in law enforcement for the past several years. This method of law enforcement -- vastly different from typical incident-oriented policing -- means officers are assigned to a neighborhood, usually one with high crime rates. Officers spend most of their time in their assigned area, where they get to know the residents and the environment.
COP encourages officers to form partnerships with the residents and work with them to prevent crime. Occasionally, police will even set up a local office in their assigned neighborhood and hold monthly meetings with the residents.
While many neighborhoods are implementing COP programs, their use of technology varies considerably. Some wouldn't think of doing the job without it, while others get along just fine doing things the traditional way. And whether technology is being used or not, most COP programs have proven to be successful in bringing communities together, reducing crime and giving citizens an added sense of security.
Jurisdictions that are using technology in their COP programs are choosing to do so in order to improve efficiency and enhance their information-dependent operations. Columbia, S.C., a city of 112,000, developed a sophisticated system that uses an integrated computer-aided dispatch system, mobile data terminals and message switching and routing tools to allow an exchange of information with state and national law enforcement databases.
Columbia's system is used primarily to collect, store, monitor and retrieve information needed by officers in the COP program. Officers can quickly perform license plate and tag checks, produce tow slips if they tow a vehicle, check on stolen property and do online incident and booking reports. The system also automatically captures shift activities to help produce the daily shift-ending reports.
"The incident reports and the booking reports are transferred electronically through a records management system so that we can get rid of as much paperwork as possible," said Ken Turner, computer services administrator for the Computer Services Division of the city of Columbia. "Normally, an officer fills out a form and then has to hand-key it into a computer later."
The system also helps officers sort data so they can present information to citizens in an easy-to-understand format at neighborhood meetings. "As they work with the public, they will be able to answer questions from them more quickly," said Turner. "If citizens ask a question about a particular incident, the officers can literally go to the laptops and pull up the report and let them know."
Mobile data terminals in Columbia's patrol cars let officers transmit information back and forth without using two-way radio, dramatically reducing the probability that sensitive messages will be intercepted. "When a call comes in -- providing it's not high priority like a bank robbery or police officer shot -- we can just dispatch computer-to-car. It cuts down on the voice communication, and clears the air for more severe emergencies," said Turner. "At this point in time we don't know of any scanners that are able to pick up the digital data packets that we're communicating with. So people can't sit at home and listen to what went on at the neighbor's house like they can with voice communications."
Columbia is also putting together a Geographic Information System (GIS) that will be available for officers in the COP program early this year. Using GIS, officers will be able to plot criminal activity on an electronic map. Layers of information can then be added to the map to create a picture of crime trends in an area.
Turner expects the system to save 15,000 to 20,000 hours a year for officers and other personnel who normally have to hand-key various reports. "That gets the officer back on the street quicker and lets us reassign other personnel to