Local, state and federal authorities have praised the role of technology in helping apprehend the suspect allegedly behind the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured scores more.
Investigators, dealing with a flood of digital evidence from citizens, used technology, among other things, to help identify the brothers accused in the bombings.
Although law enforcement agencies in McHenry County rarely, if ever, find themselves hunting possible terrorists, the use of technology also plays an important role in solving everyday crime and identifying suspects.
“People [in Boston] got involved and were willing to step forward,” Crystal Lake police Cmdr. Dan Dziewior said. “The combination of existing technology and the willingness of citizens only enhances our ability to protect and serve.”
Local authorities traditionally lack funding for advanced technologies, but larger entities such as the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office have been able to add these devices and services as the budget allows.
Technology often used by the sheriff’s office includes automatic license plate readers capable of reading thousands of plates in a short period of time, Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said. The readers allow officers to search for stolen vehicles, suspects who are wanted, or those suspected of dealing drugs, among other things.
Recently, they have been used to track down motorists involved in hit-and-run accidents when the only information available is a partial plate number and description of the vehicle involved, as well as shootings involving vehicles where no suspect has been identified.
Another important tool for the sheriff’s office is its intelligence-led policing effort, which allows officials to target high-crime areas in the county by compiling crime data and turning it into a map.
That mapping program came at no cost to the department, and instances where it has been used include areas where a string of residential burglaries has occurred, among other crime trends.
The Crystal Lake and Huntley police departments are in the process of integrating a similar mapping technique to use when deploying officers throughout the communities.
“We can use smart technology and attempt to predict where that officer should be rather than where he is required to be after a crime happens,” Dziewior said. “It helps predict where crime has and is most likely to occur.”
Thermal imaging, like that used to locate the Boston bombing suspect, also is available to many departments throughout the county. Night vision also can be used.
Upgrades, like those now available in the majority of squad cars, have increased efficiency rates for local departments.
That includes in-car cameras that record video and audio of each traffic stop both outside and inside the vehicle, as well as in-car laptops linked to national, state and local databases.
“It’s a limitless law enforcement system right now,” Dziewior said. “Information is instantly available to officers throughout the country.”
Other amenities inside the squad cars can include digital printers, radar units, portable Breathalyzers, and devices that can detect the amount of tint on windows.
“I have been doing this for 37 years, and when I started, all you had in the police car was a cabin and toggle switch to turn the sirens and lights on,” Huntley Police Chief John Perkins said. “If you look now, there’s hardly enough room because of all the equipment.”
Once a crime has occurred, the technology used in crime labs with the use of DNA and other evidence has expedited the process of identifying a suspect, Perkins added.
The addition of technology also has helped departments run more smoothly.
“Embracing technology and adding new training opportunities has helped us to reduce overtime and improve efficiency,” Zinke said. “You have to be smart and utilize these tools whenever possible.”
Social media and citizen tips through anonymous phone calls or text messages have allowed residents the ability to instantly send information to police when crimes or suspicious activity occurs.
“If people don’t alert us to the things we should be focusing on, technology is useless,” Dziewior said. “It only benefits us if the community is involved.”
The technology trend also has produced a new type of criminal, Perkins added.
“As much as [technology] helps, there is a whole new Wild West of crime that is taking place over the Internet,” he said. “One of the most frustrating things is a citizen who is victimized through identity theft and scams.”