OGDEN — A tiny tracking device inserted into police pistols holds promise for more conclusive investigations after officers use deadly force, Utah law enforcement leaders say.
The Ogden Police Department is at the forefront of testing a technology that counts and time stamps every round fired from a Glock service firearm — another piece in law enforcement’s efforts to better analyze and train as the nation is convulsed by controversy over police shootings.
Police Chief Eric Young said Ogden is working with Australia-based ShotDot, which has been pioneering the shot tracking technology. A tracking device is installed in the grip of a Glock and data is streamed to police administrators.
“We are assisting in the testing and development and structure of the product,” Young said Thursday. He added that other companies are working on similar technology, so the ultimate provider decision has not been made.
“We’re interested in any technology that helps us understand what happens with the firearm when it’s fired,” Young said.
In current practice after a police shooting, crime scene and county attorney investigators track down every shell casing and spent slug, count rounds remaining in pistol magazines and interview officers about how many shots they fired.
It’s labor intensive, time consuming, and officers often can’t remember how many shots they fired, or when shots were fired in relation to other officers’ firing.
Young said people expect officers to be able to recall the minute details. “But if you’re threatened and someone is trying to shoot you or stab you or kill you, you’re just going to fire until the threat is ended,” he said.
Ogden officers have been involved in at least five shootings in the past year, two of them fatal, according to information compiled by the Standard-Examiner.
Officer Nate Lyday and a domestic violence suspect were killed on May 28, 2020, and an Ogden officer fatally shot an armed rape suspect on Feb. 5 this year.
The city is embroiled in a federal civil rights suit filed by the parents of Jovany Mercado, who was carrying a knife when he was killed Aug. 16, 2019. Four Ogden officers fired their pistols in that incident.
Lt. Alex Lepley, the Utah Highway Patrol’s training director, said the technology will help investigators cut through confusion to reconstruct an incident.
“Things get chaotic during (a police shooting) and it would definitely help provide a more clear picture of what exactly happened without solely relying on officer memory and witness memory,” Lepley said.
With tracking technology, commanders will be able to receive an immediate download of the data. The improvements will allow police to better analyze incidents, offer more transparency to the public and achieve better training results, Young said.
The Utah Legislature this year passed Senate Bill 68, which appropriated $500,000 for the technology. The Utah Department of Public Safety will award matching grants to interested police departments.
UHP’s Lepley said data from the gun devices will help hone training.
“We always learn front things that happen, that have taken place good or bad, and tailor training to accommodate those. The more data, the better, in every respect,” Lepley said.
Shot tracking would be just the latest technical tool Ogden police use to analyze and train.
About a year ago the department added a virtual simulator. Young said it’s a 360-degree surrounding, immersive simulator that throws “real life situations” at officers. They train with firearms and Tasers.
“If they’re shot or stabbed in a training scenario, they even get a shock from a device they wear,” Young said.
In scenarios, officers interact with people and changing situations, which enhances de-escalation training, he said.