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Layton police go high tech

New gadgets increase efficiency and safety

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LAYTON — Picture this: Police officers in Layton no longer have to write reports. The police department no longer stores video tapes that take up space and lose quality. The fire department can have green lights almost wherever it goes.

That is just a snapshot review of how Layton public safety has made another step into the digital age.

During 2006, the police and fire departments purchased equipment that isn't all that glamorous. And it isn't all that obvious, either.

But it makes police officers' and firefighters' jobs more efficient and safer.

And the Layton City Council considers the $426,000 for the tools money well spent.

During a Feb. 2 budget workshop, Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe explained how his department changed during 2006 and became more efficient.

The department bought digital voice recorders for 36 officers and seven sergeants. So when an officer needs to write a report, he speaks it.

At the end of his shift, when he goes back to the station, the officer uploads the digital file to the computer system. Later, a transcriptionist downloads the file and types it at 120 words per minute.

That's better than having an officer type it up at 20 words per minute, says Lt. Garret Atkin, who supervises the department's patrol division.

And it's also better to pay a transcriptionist $10 per hour to type than to pay an officer $18 per hour to type, Keefe said.

"It's a tremendous waste of time to go back to the station and write reports," Keefe said.

Now, officers are spending more time in their patrol areas and are getting better visibility.

"We figure the time savings (to the city) were 4,838 man hours" in a year, Keefe said. That's the equivalent of 2.3 full-time police officers.

"Those things are great," Atkin said. Most reports are done within four days, but many reports are completed in one, he said.

During the past year, the department has also made the move from VHS to digital video recorders in patrol cars. Video cameras help departments review incidents and train officers and can be indispensable during court proceedings.

Now, when a Layton officer turns on his overhead lights, his in-car camera automatically saves the previous minute of video, Atkin says.

So if there was a crash right in front of the officer, you could feasibly watch the crash happen on video.

Keefe said the cameras are getting excellent audio and visual recordings.

But here's the cool part: When an officer drives back to the station at the end of his shift, the video system automatically uploads the video to the station's server. And if there's a complaint or a situation that needs Keefe's attention, he can immediately begin watching the in-car video from his desk.

The department keeps digital video for 90 days, and the digital video takes up less space than files full of videotapes.

"It's been reliable equipment so far, too," Atkin says. "It's an overall better system."

The two systems are the latest innovations for the police department.

In 2002, the department bought a system to make public notifications by using public phone records to place phone calls to homes in a certain area of the city.

Layton Sgt. Mark Chatlin, the department's spokesman, said in 2006 the department doubled its dedicated phone lines from 12 to 24. The department could take a 30-second message warning residents to stay inside their homes and send it to 48 homes every minute.

The department could pinpoint the homes in a neighborhood where someone with a gun was barricaded in a house and warn them to evacuate. Police could notify a whole block or all the homes in a 1- or 2-mile radius, Chatlin said. "It's a good way to notify people and do it quickly."

The department has used the automated phone system several times to ask residents to help look for a missing person.

Several other agencies in the state have similar systems, said Brian Hyer, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety.

The fire department is also using technology to improve its efficiency.

During the Feb. 2 budget meeting, Layton Fire Chief Kevin Ward told the City Council how his department used funding over the past two years to install an Opticom system in the city's 35 or so light-controlled intersections.

A signal attached to a firetruck beams a signal to a receiver mounted above traffic lights. Within a half mile of a red light, Opticom begins working to finish the current traffic cycle and get a green light in order for firefighters.

The system not only speeds firefighter response time but makes traffic conditions safer than having fire engines and ambulances use lights and sirens to push their way through a red light at an intersection, said Assistant Fire Chief Scott Adams, who was instrumental in getting the system for Layton. "There's been more than one near miss (at intersections)," Adams said.

Adams said driving policies at the department did not change with the addition of the Opticom system. Emergency vehicle drivers are still required to stop at red lights before proceeding through and to slow down at green lights.

Councilman Steve Handy said the city is lucky to have progressive police and fire chiefs. "They're very innovative," he said. "Public safety has to be the No. 1 priority given the times we live in." With a growing city like Layton — the largest in Davis County — it's important that the council adequately fund the city's emergency responders and get them the proper training, Handy said.

E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com