“The LAPD realizes that technology is enabling citizens to be the eyes and ears for emergency responders,” LAPD analyst Karen Bottancino wrote in a report to the commission. But it’s still unclear how much such a system would cost, Riley said. Representatives from PowerPhone Inc., a Connecticut-based crisis communication company that specializes in 911 operators, said such systems run into the “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” “This provides more information to the 911 center but also to public-safety professionals,” said Greg Sheehan, a PowerPhone spokesman. “You are capturing stuff that may be used as evidence to solve a crime. It will inevitably come about.” But inside a crime lab at LAPD’s Parker Center, specialists who spend their days looking at crime-scene photos tell a different story. “The quality of images is not something that we can do much with,” said Oshin Noubarian, a supervisor at the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division’s photo lab. The lab gets about two cell-phone images a month, most brought by investigators who find pictures on a suspect’s camera. “The problem is they are low-resolution and generally unusable,” Noubarian said. Still, the possibility of receiving text messages or images from a crime scene gives cops yet one more window into a case. But there are kinks in the system. Until last November, the California Highway Patrol received all local 911 cell-phone calls. But at the urging of the Federal Communications Commission, those duties were handed over to the LAPD. Promising quicker response times, the LAPD unveiled a dispatch center where wireless calls may pop up on screens accompanied by a mapping system. But not all do. Many cell carriers don’t have access to the Global Positioning System or GPS, needed to associate calls with a location. That poses the biggest problem for officers responding to photo-only calls. Plus, there are hoaxes. “We need to make sure that we associate calls with a 911 event,” Riley said. “You have to be able to correlate it with a 911 call.” [email protected] (818) 713-3741 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “This can provide beneficial information to us, like a photo of a license plate, or a suspect in a video, or a text message of someone that is unable to talk,” said Tim Riley, who oversees 911 operators and who records and tracks radio for the LAPD. “It’s basically keeping up with technology.” It could take up to five years to implement a system that could handle text messages, video and photos for the nearly 2 million phone calls LAPD’s 911 dispatch center takes annually, Riley said. But a modified version could be up by the end of the year. The department is working with a private company to develop the right system. The L.A. Police Commission will discuss the preliminary plans today. If installed, the system could be the first of its kind in California, Riley said. Earlier this year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that his city is implementing a similar system. As technology improves, police nationwide are using cell images to crack crimes. In March 2006, a 15-year-old girl using her cell phone pictured the face of a New York subway flasher. In Seattle last year, a local newspaper reported that a cell-phone picture helped police catch a man suspected of assaulting two people. It happens every day at an L.A. restaurant, bank or liquor store: A gunman approaches the register, wields his weapon and demands cash. Helpless customers stand frozen, afraid to call 911 because hearing someone’s voice on the phone could trigger the robber’s ire. But now, the Los Angeles Police Department is looking at a system that could accept a cell-phone image taken at the scene of a crime. Snap and send. Or even text and send. No speaking necessary. In Los Angeles and around the country, police agencies are looking at cellular technology that is common in most teenagers’ lives to save lives. The idea is the same: Images communicate what’s happening in real time.
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