OPD awaits new crime-fighting tools

Apr 17 2011 - 10:20pm

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OGDEN -- A special police unit focusing on downtown offenders will get help from a surveillance blimp and real-time crime center that may be launched in July.

The blimp the department intends to buy for less than the price of a $40,000 patrol vehicle could help the Crime Reduction Unit keep an eye on trouble spots like those in east-central Ogden, Police Chief Jon Greiner said.

The blimp would be controlled from an electronic live crime center to be housed on the second floor of the police department's headquarters at 2186 Lincoln Ave.

The six-member CRU has been in operation since late 2007 and concentrates on the east-central section of the city, from 20th to 30th streets between Washington and Harrison Boulevard.

The unit concentrates on identifying habitual offenders and patterns of criminal activity. Special attention is focused on gang offenders, parole violators, fugitives and drug users and distributors.

Despite their best efforts, police have very little or no influence over socioeconomic factors that can affect criminal activity, such as poverty, unemployment and family relationships, said Robert Wadman, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at Weber State University.

Still, it's important that the CRU continually evaluate its efforts in east-central Ogden, Wadman said.

"It's in line with the philosophy of community policing," he said. "I want to commend them for taking those steps, because it's a building block in developing community trust and confidence."

In 2010, violent crime incidents, including homicide, rape, robbery and assault, in east-central Ogden decreased 24 percent. Property crimes, such as burglary and auto theft rose by 20 percent over those recorded in 2009, according to a newly issued CRU report.

Specifically, there were 98 reported violent crimes in east-central Ogden in 2010 compared to 129 the year before, the report says. The CRU made 723 arrests in 2010 compared to 637 in 2009.

There were 940 property-crime reports in 2010 and 784 in 2009, according to the CRU report.

The figures in the CRU report are provided to the state Department of Public Safety. Certain categories are then removed by DPS, such as simple assault and domestic violence, and then provided to the FBI.

The FBI, in turn, reviews the numbers supplied from DPS and comes up with its own findings based on its definitions of particular crimes, said Greiner.

The decrease in violent crime reports can be attributed to the CRU's focus on keeping a close eye on individuals on parole or probation, many of whom live in east-central Ogden because of affordable housing, said Greiner.

Many of those individuals were previously housed at the Northern Utah Community Correctional Center, said Greiner.

Most of the increase in reported property crime in 2010 in east-central Ogden stemmed from a rash of vehicle burglaries and thefts, he added.

The blimp, which the department intends to buy from Hyperblimp LLC, based in Salt Lake City, will be an important crime-fighting tool in that area and elsewhere in the city, said Greiner.

Efforts are under way to get Federal Aviation Administration clearance to fly the 52-foot-long helium-filled blimp, which would be the first of its kind in the U.S. to be used by a law enforcement agency, he said.

Personnel with the Utah Center for Aeronautic Innovation and Design at Weber State University are fitting it with cameras, a transponder and other equipment.

The blimp can stay up for five to seven hours at a time at a top speed of 40 mph, running a preprogrammed route or tasked for such things as following a single individual or vehicle, all from an elevation of 400 feet.

The blimp would be operated through a joystick that would be part of the police department's real-time crime center. The center would also eventually be linked with thousands of private and government security cameras around town, including the city's own inventory of some 200 cameras.

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