City approves funds for WPD Real Time Crime Center

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A Real Time Crime Center located in New York City. Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Foundation.
A Real Time Crime Center located in New York City. Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Foundation.

The City of Wilmington approved funds to help establish a real time crime center, or STING (Situational Tactics and Intelligence Nexus Group) Center, at the Wilmington Police Department Headquarters.

The $228,640 will be appropriated from federal forfeiture funds collected as a result of drug seizures and will pay for equipment such as hardware and software, furniture and carpet replacement at the new center “to get it turnkey, ready to go,” according to WPD Chief Ralph Evangelous. Some of the money will be used for training for both the sworn and non-sworn personnel who will be managing the center.

Evangelous first presented the idea of the real time crime center to city officials in March, when he described how such a center would help responding officers by giving them the most up-to-date information as gathered mainly from hundreds of video camera feeds, but also from social media, intelligence/terrorism databases, 911 records and other sources that could be mined for tips and information.

“It’s proactive – it’s while it’s occurring, not after the fact. It’s not reactive,” Evangelous said Tuesday before council when describing the benefits of the “immediate aggregation of data from field resources for operations.”

“Right now every one of those databases has to be checked individually, which are usually done hours, weeks, days later after the fact,” the chief said. “We’ll be able to data-dip these and mine down into that data in real time as the incident is unfolding.”

WPD’s center will be modeled after that of the Albuquerque Police Department, which is used as a national model. Its biggest feature will be a massive video wall that will tap into the more than 300 traffic and security cameras the City of Wilmington owns and operates (and which the chief noted are currently not monitored) as well as surveillance systems operated by other public and private groups that the chief hopes to enlist as he builds his database.

“Our goal is to have all public entities bringing in their video feeds into the real time crime center, and then go out to these private entities – banks, the mall – and get an agreement with them to get their feeds in there so that when something happens, we can drill into that video system and get information in real time and get situation awareness and get that to our officers and/or deputies as they are responding to an incident that’s unfolding,” said Evangelous, noting they could have access to up to 2,000 to 3,000 video feeds. “My vision is the entire county, all law enforcement, their analysts and their personnel, be able to work with us, partner with us, share resources with us and have a true regional real time crime center.

“Bad guys don’t know borders, city limits or even county borders,” Evangelous continued. “It makes sense that we all work together and share this and share the resources to do this, which means hopefully they will come on board with the personnel to help us staff it.”

In March, Evangelous said the center would need four sworn employees to run the center, with two present at any given time, as well as three full-time analysts and two part-time ones.

According to Evangelous, police departments all across the country are establishing similar facilities, with nearby cities such as Fayetteville and Charleston already having them in operation. The chief said his department should be able to initiate STING operations through a pilot program that would start around Aug. 1, and after the initial analysis and evaluation of the program, Evangelous said they would “hopefully go live within a month or so after that.”

“We need to work smarter rather than harder,” said Evangelous. “[This] gives us, really, another whole avenue to be able to police.”

City council approved it by a unanimous 7 – 0 vote.

“This is a very substantial investment by the city,” said Councilman Paul Lawler. “This is a substantial crime-fighting tool we’re providing for the police department, and I hope it pays off.”