Virtual eyes and ears on the street: an inside look at Wilmington’s new, high-tech crime solving center

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WILMINGTON — Take a walk within the Wilmington Police headquarters, down a small hallway and through a single glass door, and you enter a space dedicated to serving the community in real time.

The Wilmington Police Department’s “STING” Center is now in operation and helping solve crimes across the city. The STING (Situational Tactics and Intelligence Nexus Group) Center, located at police headquarters on Bess Street, has been in operation since the start of 2017, according to STING Center Director Malcolm Phelps.

The STING Center has been a year-and a-half in the making — from idea, to funding approval, to developing the space and staffing the center, Phelps said. The police department secured funding with approval from the City of Wilmington in the amount of $228,640 in federal forfeiture and drug seizure funds in May 2015. Students with Cape Fear Community College’s design program have also had a hand in the project, by coming up with some of the designs that were implemented during the development of the center.

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The entrance to the Wilmington Police Department’s new STING Center. (Photos by Christina Haley.)

“There are different components that have come online and we continue to evolve our technology. But, at the first of the year we basically opened shop,” Phelps said. “The primary purpose of the STING center is to increase situational awareness for police officers within the agency.” 

The police department’s STING Center includes a video wall of eight, 55-inch monitors, all displaying a live video feed from cameras across Wilmington, used to keep eyes on crimes scene area and assist officers out in the field.

Since the start of the year, the STING Center has helped provide up-to-the-minute information to officers in the field by utilizing those live video feeds, as well as information from state, local and federal law enforcement databases and social media to help both combat and solve crimes in Wilmington.

The STING Center is made up of four police corporals who have been reassigned to the unit, a police planner, and five criminal intelligence analysts, some some who are transfers and some who are new hires. The last criminal intelligence analyst joined the police department last week, Phelps said.

The center has already been utilized to solve crimes in Wilmington, he said.

In a recent case, a corporal at the center assisted officers in a domestic dispute case. Phelps said the corporal checked the STING Center database to find that one party involved in the dispute was also a suspect in a stolen handgun case three days earlier.

“So, to increase the awareness of those officers that this person might be armed, and by checking our data bases, we were able to relay that information, that resulted in a safer outcome for the responding officer and those present at the scene,” Phelps said.

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The video wall of the STING Center allows those inside the agency view live video feeds from traffic camera’s in the city and other resources to help solve crime and increase officers’ awareness in the field.

The center has been able to assist in several other investigations, as well.

Police were able to find a suspect in a rash of package thefts in the Wilmington area right before the holidays. One suspect was reportedly committing the crimes while wearing an electric monitoring device, Phelps said. Police and those working in the STING Center we were able to pinpoint the location of the suspect using that device.

And last week, police corporals and analysts in the center assisted in the hunt for a suspect in a late-morning bank robbery at Newbridge Bank on South College Road in Wilmington.

“We were able to utilize our traffic cameras to help provide the responding patrol officers additional eyes in looking for the suspect. And when the suspect description was released with some distinguishing marks, we were able to review databases and develop a quick list of suspects,” Phelps said. “Like so often happens with a quickly moving crime scene, and information, some of the initial information wasn’t valid. But we were able to get a lot of extra eyes on the area.”

The center will be a continually evolving, both in staff and technology, in the future, as the city’s budget for the police department and available resources allow, Phelps said. But, the initial staff for the STING center is set.

“We’ve got a really good staff on board now. And I’m starting to see daily results,” Phelps said.

Watch the progression of the STING Center: