The age of command, control, surveillance and crime-fighting in real time is here, and its nerve center at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, operational since spring, is the Real-Time Crime Center, an average-size, darkish, windowless room on the first floor of the county courthouse, the sheriff’s temporary home.
Most of that technology has been around for a few years in disparate places. The agency consolidated it all this spring and this afternoon displayed it to reporters for the first time, just as the sheriff had a little over a year ago invited reporters to sit in on the agency’s weekly Crimemaps strategy meeting, where the week’s crime-fighting goals are laid out.
“This has been about three years in the making,” Sheriff Rick Staly said–three years over which the agency spent $600,000 on the technology, with annual recurring, operational costs of around $45,000 to $50,000. “Many of you over the last couple of years have asked how we were able to drive crime down–47 percent in three years. Well, this is the nerve center. We were building this piece by piece with LPRs, license plate recognition readers, Rapid ID in the field, better technology for our analysts, and what really held us up for over two years was the lack of space, because we had to abandon our operations center, and this was going to be in there. Not to belabor that issue, but it took us a while to get more space in the courthouse, temporarily.”
If Crimemaps is about strategy, the Real-Time Crime Center is all about tactics and technology.
The Sheriff’s Office has License Plate Readers trained on 38 road lanes at 30 locations around the county. It has access to live feeds from several dozen traffic cameras installed by Palm Coast government around town. It has access to every live surveillance camera in the school district, to live surveillance feeds from city buildings and parks, county buildings and parks, and other similar feeds. It does not have immediate, live access to private residences’ and business’ surveillance camera feeds, but it is growing a large database of those cameras, and can ask to access their footage close to real time.
All of that feeds into the Real-Time Crime Center. Powerful tools, and powerful, real-time surveillance that evokes Big Brother on steroids–the sort of things about which civil liberties groups sound alarms. The agency is aware.
“Sometimes we will have live feeds up here that we’re working a case on,” Chief Paul Bovino said. “I just want to make it pretty clear that we don’t sit here and monitor feeds of cameras. That’s the million-dollar question everybody always wants us to answer. OK, this is not a monitoring center. We do not care what everybody is doing that we’re monitoring people on a daily basis. We are only using live feeds when it impacts a crime or an investigation that we are currently working.”
So there would rarely be a screen showing a screen with a live feed from one of the cameras around town. But the footage is available, recorded, and stored in accordance with Florida’s public record laws. The License Plate Reader data is channeled through a private company, which itself dispatches information back to the crime center on demand.
The center looks and operates much like the 911 dispatch center–same set-up of oversized screens, work stations, communication devices, but in a smaller space. The two operations overlap some of their functions. But they could not be combined for two reasons: there’s not enough room in the existing dispatch center at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. Even if there were, the two couldn’t be combined because dispatching is “siloed,” the sheriff said, and “doesn’t allow the detectives to interact” with it.
Visualize a windowless, large room the size of a living room, if that. The crime center is operated by crime analysts who zero in and coordinate the information they have access to, in real time, and dispatch it to detectives and deputies in the field, with back and forth communications whenever necessary. When the center will move to the new sheriff’s operations center, it will include a “war room” that will be the agency’s command center. (County Administrator Jerry Cameron and the county commission have been promising a new operations center for a year and a half, with nothing but scrub land to show for it so far.)
“The main mission of the Real-Time Crime Center is to support the investigators and the detectives and the deputies out in the field, when they are on a crime in progress or going out on calls, they can rely [on the fact that] there are people here digging up information for them, camera feeds or any kind of assistance that they can give them. For most of us growing up in law enforcement all we relied on was dispatch. We got dispatched to a call, and then we used our feet and our hands and our mouths to go and investigate, do neighborhood canvasses and speak to the public and try to dig up details about the call. Now, with the implementation of so much technology around us, we’re able to touch some of that technology and feed that information to deputies and detectives in the field, increasing their ability to solve the cases faster, protect the public faster, find missing people faster, and do all those great things that law enforcement does when we’re responding to crimes in progress or assistance to the public.”
The crime analysts in the center are aware of the 911 dispatch center’s activities, seeing in real time what deputies are being dispatched where, and to what type of calls. They have a dashboard that’s traffic-focused–traffic crashes, construction, hazards people are reporting, traffic complaints. They have access to the sheriff’s and county’s Computer Assisted Dispatching, laying out where and why a deputy is deployed. If the analysts detect an instance where the crime center can be used, they intervene. They’ll attempt to try to trace a stolen vehicle, pull up a GPS screen plotting where current deputies are, help direct them based on what Licence Plate Readers or city videos are picking up, or look for what could be intercepted by deputies in the field.
Much of that information is being collected into a real-time dashboard that will be available, sometime later this month, at the fingertips of deputies in their patrol vehicles, “so that the deputies in the field have a one-stop shop for an interactive, Real-Time Crime Center.” (The system is being field tested.)
“Once it’s launched in the next week is that every time a deputy turns on their computer in the car, that’s the first thing they’re going to see,” Staly said, “so they know exactly what’s been going on in the community and what to focus on.” In effect, the dashboard will bring Crimemaps and the Real-Time Crime Center to their patrol car. They’ll have reminders of hot spots for car breaks or other such criminal trends.
“If I’m a deputy in Flagler County, we are giving you a playbook, right? It’s like playing on a football team,” Bovino said, “so if you’re a new deputy and you don;t know about the area and you don’t know who the suspects are, we’re giving you a playbook to say, this is a high-crime area, or crime is happening in this area, I should go over there, I should patrol there, I should talk to people there, or I should go stop cars here because we had a lot of crashes there. Without that information, you’re just driving around. We’re being more effective at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office by doing all this.”
One of the tools at the analysts disposal is a map with a growing plotted list of locations–businesses and residences–whose owners have turned over to the sheriff’s office details about their existing surveillance cameras, and their open invitation or allowance for investigators to request footage from those cameras on an as-needed basis. The agency doesn’t have direct access to the camera feeds themselves, and does not plan to have that access. But by knowing where exactly the cameras are and what orientation they provide, the Real-Time Crime Center can immediately either itself contact the owners of the surveillance cameras and ask for footage to be electronically transferred to the sheriff’s office, or know exactly where to send deputies to seek out that footage. (The agency just publicized that program as its “Silent Guardian” program.)
“In the old days I would have to do what’s called a neighborhood canvass,” Bovino said. “I’d walk around and ask people if they saw anything, I’d see if you had a camera, something that would help me aid in the investigation. We are now trying to implement this digitally to where we can do a neighborhood canvas from our interactive maps, and you’ll learn if someone has a camera or something that could help us and we can reach out to that person and say hey, can you send us this footage from this time span, and the detectives can start doing that stuff from the Real-Time Crime Center and not have to even drive around half of the county trying to get those videos.”
Seven missing persons have been recovered with License Plate Readers so far this year, and some 40 stolen vehicles have been recovered, about equal to the number last year.
There was for example the case Bovino described of an abusive man who’d broken his wife’s legs and was court-ordered not to be in contact with her. But he was. The Department of Children and Families considered the woman endangered. Police agencies were on the lookout for the man. A license-plate reader tagged the man’s car in Flagler County. Deputies arrested him on a no-contact order and rescued the woman, returning her to DCF.
“It’s a great force-multiplier when you use this technology,” Staly said, “and you can apprehend these criminals, or find missing people instead of spending hours and hours searching for them. So it’s not just crime, although that’s really what we focus on in a Real-Time Crime Center, it’s crime. But it helps in other areas, too.”
Can license-plate readers and related technology lead to wrong arrests? “The whole point of what we’re doing is to not stop people by mistake,” Bovino said. “What we do with LPR technology is, no deputy in the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office is allowed to stop a car without confirmation from the [Communication] Center, the Real-Time Crime Center, or from their own devices in the car. You will not stop a car just on an LPR hit. It’ll be verified. The plate will be visually verified against the vehicle. And then the vehicle will be possibly stopped or you will establish probable cause to stop that vehicle. You will not stop on a misread or anything. To this date, to my knowledge, we’ve stopped no cars mistakenly on LPR hits because of the thoroughness of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. I believe that this helps us not possibly get a wrong ID or a mis-ID or someone who doesn’t need to be stopped by the police.”
Bovino said there has been no cases of deputies misusing the system. The sheriff said everything deputies do on the computer system is tracked, so the agency can determine who accessed what, and why.
As for other agencies accessing the Real Crime Time Center’s technology: that’s not happening. In other words, federal, state and neighboring local agencies do not have access to the feeds and other data in the center. However, the sheriff’s office will cooperate with any agency, including such federal agencies as the Border Patrol, requesting help tracking down a vehicle or an individual. So in effect the center can be placed in the service of other agencies. Further, “partners” that have the same type of technology, such as the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, can and will share the data through the private company that administers the license plate readers.
“Everybody is familiar with our communications center as a nerve center for that connection to the field, deputies, to our detectives and to the citizens,” Staly said. “This is the nerve center for how we fight crime, and how we reduce crime, and how we solve crime.”
All the toys bells and whistles. He will need it in that County.
As long as such technology is in trustworthy hands, it should be fine; however, if some person were to want to survey what people do and do not do sufficiently and give them points for good or bad behavior that might lead to some form of favor or suppression as the Chinese government does as you read this, then this technology would be ill used and we’d probably too late to stop such ill use. Presumably, the sheriff will cooperate with ICE, no? Presumably, the sheriff might also collaborate with a newly formed Committee for UnAmerican Activities, no? Once public protest is declared a crime as per DeSantis’ newly requested law, the sheriff may also collaborate with those officers, no? I suspect that too many techy toys in the hands of unpredictable people may turn sour as has already happened with all the military hardware that’s been shared with law enforcement.
Jay Kosack says
Crime fighting at its best!
Staley sure knows how to piss away our taxpayer dollars.
Nunya business says
I thought we beat fascism with the nazis xcetera, should’nt the public have 24 hour surveillance on every police officer to make sure there the upstanding 24 hour law and personally responsible people they are lol i demand urine tests every other day to work on opiate addicted and cocaine using members
Lance Carroll says
“Big brother on steroids” says it all. Any funds allocated toward deputy training, de-escaltion of contact with the public by Sheriff’s personnel, Flagler County Jail operations, etc? Again, ” big brother on steroids” speaks loud and clear…
C’mon man says
Sheriff Staly got this agency legit. Not sure how his opponent is going to compete.
Up in Arms says
NEW WORLD ORDER………… Slowly emerges from the “Patriot Act”, signed by George W. Bush after 9/11 terrorist attack. Little by little your Rights will be taken away until you are “controlled” by the ” COLLECTIVE “. Yes, its real America. Happening right before your eyes but We the People are to blind to see it coming……
A Concerned Observer says
To “Up in Arms” et-al. I absolutely love to hear people loudly complaining how surveillance cameras infringe on their constitutional rights to privacy but as soon they are the victim of a crime or of a hit-and-run driver their tune suddenly, but just as vehemently, changes to “Where are the cameras? Why aren’t there cameras here to protect the public?” Ya can’t have it both ways folks…
with the old sheriff’s building sitting there vacant, it begs the question, would it be cheaper to gut the existing building, and re-do the entire interior, while eliminating mold, or build a new one, which the lot they zoned it for has been sitting vacant, with construction signs, in a project that will take over a year rather than 8 months? it really shows the clownery going on higher up on the totem pole in this town, instead of chopping heads and stabbing backs, maybe palm coast should focus a little more on repairing existing infrastructure and parks, instead of adding more and more useless crap to this town that doesn’t really put it on the map like they think it does.
Big Brother is Watching YOU!
Charlotte Hall says
I must reply, WOW, now that’s impressive! “Kudos to Sheriff Rick Staly” for bringing Flagler County and specifically, Palm Coast, into the same rhelm of high technology of larger cities around the U.S.! Although I don’t have the knowledge of everyday procedures within any police department, I’ve noticed and read about the admirable decline in crime within the city of Palm Coast. GREAT JOB, Sheriff Staly and staff! Knowing our police have the most effective and highly accurate tools at their disposal to thwart crime and keep it’s citizens safe is comforting to me. When you have the most updated tools and equipment at your disposal, it makes your job easier, faster and more accurate. And that, in turn, is most advantageous to the citizens of Flagler County. Congrats on your new center!
The Voice Of Reason says
In the age of technology, this is what I would expect. I support and applaud it. While obviously targeted at street level, neighborhood and domestic crime, I hope what’s available is also being used to maximum effect investigating white collar crime. I’m a believer in if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about with this type of law enforcement technology. I have met Sheriff Staly and I support him. My gut feeling is he is also not a believer in police systemic racism. I believe he’s targets all crime equally. I wish all law enforcement could say the same. I wish our President set a completely different example as a role model. Trump is a disgrace, 100%. Thank you Sheriff Staly! I feel safe here.
Jim Walker says
I can’t believe so many people are so gullible. This man in my opinion is a disgrace to the agency he runs. Do you ever notice that all photo ops are with the sheriff and the highest in command? Well I do and worked for the SO for many years and the good ole boy system will never end. Hey RICK, remember when you said you could pass a physical agility test when running for election? You never did, because you can’t! Please let Mr. Jones run this county the way it needs to be run and get rid of Rick!
Awoke and Aware says
Crime is everywhere. That’s why there will always be a need for public servants to protect and serve when called upon. Unfortunately that slope became slippery and began to collapse when, “Protect and Serve” became “Crime Prevention.” At what point does someone completely lose sight of what sets America apart from third world countries? At what point does someone become so unthankful for the freedom their fathers and forefathers gave us? This is third world domestic surveillance at a chilling level. It can’t be candy coated any other way. American citizens who have a fundamental understanding of what truly makes “America Great” should never accept the normalization of this.
“The Sheriff’s Office has License Plate Readers trained on 38 road lanes at 30 locations around the county. It has access to live feeds from several dozen traffic cameras installed by Palm Coast government around town.”
“It does not have immediate, live access to private residences’ and business’ surveillance camera feeds, but it is growing a large database of those cameras, and can ask to access their footage close to real time.”
Behold, Ring. https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/06/amazon-ring-must-end-its-dangerous-partnerships-police
“OK, this is not a monitoring center. We do not care what everybody is doing that we’re monitoring people on a daily basis. We are only using live feeds when it impacts a crime or an investigation that we are currently working.”
What could possibly go wrong?
“License Plate Reader data is channeled through a private company, which itself dispatches information back to the crime center on demand.”
Behold, Vigilant Solutions.
“It will include a “war room” that will be the agency’s command center.”
Kind of like a Fusion Center?
“County Administrator Jerry Cameron”
“For most of us growing up in law enforcement all we relied on was dispatch. We got dispatched to a call, and then we used our feet and our hands and our mouths to go and investigate”
Yes, we the people remember those days. A citizen called the police and you were then dispatched to protect and serve. Thank you for your service.
“feed that information to deputies and detectives in the field, increasing their ability to solve the cases faster, protect the public faster, find missing people faster, and do all those great things that law enforcement does when we’re responding to crimes in progress or assistance to the public.”
When will other “great things” like “basic human rights and freedoms” also be a priority for LE?
“It’s like playing on a football team,” Bovino said”
“The agency doesn’t have direct access to the camera feeds themselves, and does not plan to have that access.”
“(The agency just publicized that program as its “Silent Guardian” program.)”
“Seven missing persons have been recovered with License Plate Readers so far this year, and some 40 stolen vehicles have been recovered, about equal to the number last year.”
Justification for public buy-in. Bravo.
“Bovino said there has been no cases of deputies misusing the system.”
Really? Just like the driver database?
“The sheriff said everything deputies do on the computer system is tracked, so the agency can determine who accessed what, and why.”
I’m so relieved “the agency” has a handle on things.
“However, the sheriff’s office will cooperate with any agency, including such federal agencies as the Border Patrol, requesting help tracking down a vehicle or an individual. So in effect the center can be placed in the service of other agencies.”
Sounds about right.
“Further, “partners” that have the same type of technology, such as the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, can and will share the data through the private company that administers the license plate readers.”
St. Johns? What could possibly go wrong?