Outsmarting the bad guys

The Los Angeles Police Department is beginning to use new high-tech equipment to help recover stolen cars and catch crooks. A computer- and camera-equipped car and six hand-held devices are in use now. More cars will be on the street early next year, and police hope to have at least one such car in each division. A look at the features:


Video cameras, microphone give police more tools

Inside the car


Camera in the dome light fixture scans back seat, can access facial-recognition system.

Microphone can be activated remotely by officers via a pager.

Digital information is stored and downloaded and updated automatically upon return to the station.

Camera and microphone can monitor suspects in the back seat.


Forward-facing digital video camera records activity in front of the car.

Laptop computer can access multiple databases.


Outside video

Used primarily during traffic stops.

Begins high-resolution recording automatically when the car’s flashing lights activate, though it is constantly recording in low-resolution mode.

Officers can manually zoom the camera and make adjustments for night or day conditions.



License plate scan technology works nonstop

Cameras on the car’s roof feed license plate numbers into laptop computer loaded with stolen car database, which contains more than 100,000 entries. System alerts officers to a match.



Currently officer must type query into a computer and wait up to a minute for a response, which allows at most about 100 to 120 searches per shift.

New system can scan thousands of cars per shift.

Computer indicates if a car is connected to a crime and what kind of offense.

System is in constant operation. Information, including GPS location of cars scanned, is stored in a second processor in the trunk.



Recovery rate

An officer currently may detect 10 to 12 operational stolen cars per year.

New system has already found 35 operational stolen cars since it was introduced in late spring.

Power PC: Laptop system displays license number and photo of two cars at a time. It can also access facial-recognition information.


Handheld facial-recognition equipment makes IDs simple

On the street: Camera lens is on the back of the device that includes suspect database.

1. Portable device takes a picture of a suspect and then searches database for a match. Now used primarily in known gang areas, where suspects often use several names.

2. System translates facial structure into mathematical patterns by plotting multiple points.

3. Displays multiple individuals from within the database, showing the most likely matches first.

Identification of face and fingerprints is nearly instantaneous.

Compatible with existing police mug shot system.

Will soon be able to match fingerprints using a pad on the device.

Police have six of the devices and hope to add 10 more.


Sources: LAPD, Civica Software, Neven Vision Inc. Graphics reporting by Tom Reinken