Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Hollywood’s high-tech crime prevention center
HOLLYWOOD— Police have employed some high-tech tactics to anticipate and prevent crime in the city.
Hollywood’s $1.5-million Crime Intelligence Center is using maneuverable surveillance cameras, license plate readers, and data analysis software to target high-crime “hot spots” and catch criminals, police officials said in an unveiling of the center on April 29.
“[There are] 145,000 residents and I’ve got 300 cops to police it. Do the math,” said Hollywood Police Chief Frank Fernandez. “This is an efficient way of putting officers in the right spot at the right time for the right reason.”
The video -screen-lined walls of a fourth-floor office at Hollywood police headquarters serves as the command center that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“There are 12 cameras in North Beach, 26 along Federal Highway, and four downtown,” said Detective Daniel Justus. Police can also monitor Florida Department of Transportation highway cameras.
Police said that for example, if someone drives into Hollywood in a car reported stolen, or is using an expired tag, and they happen to drive within view of a camera or a license plate reader, an alert will flash within seconds on the screens in the Crime Intelligence Center. Officers would then be deployed to make a traffic stop.
Officer Matt Norato drives a patrol car equipped with license plate readers.
“This is a huge needle-in-a-haystack finder,” he said. “It’s somewhat Big Brother-y because everybody’s car that goes by, it takes the tag information and [creates] a GPS hit for that tag at that moment.”
The information is sent to a national database and the officer knows instantly whether a traffic stop is required.
The city plans to install more fixed and mobile cameras along Interstate 95 and other main city thoroughfares as far west as
University Drive in coming years. Some residential areas will be monitored too.
“But we’re not looking to have those cameras view anyone’s residence,” Fer- nandez said. “We’re looking at public areas only.”
Hollywood police have been mining crime data since 2006, said analyst Mari-Ann Valenzuela.
“We try to develop patterns and we forecast future crime areas,” she said. “That’s given out to all the lieutenants and majors so they can deploy their resources on a daily basis.”
Mayor Peter Bober said that translates into a safer city.
“This technology is revolutionary in terms of its clarity and in terms of our ability to know what is happening in the city,” he said.
Fernandez calls it a combination of art and science that has cut the city’s burglary rate from an average of 150 per month to fewer than 100 monthly break-ins.
“In North Beach for the last 20 years we’ve been averaging 20 car break-ins a week,” Fernandez said. “That’s not the case any more. We’ve reduced them almost down to zero.”
He said successful predictions also act as a deterrent to criminals.
“This is the future of policing — utilizing technology as a force multiplier to have more eyes and ears on the community,” Fernandez said.