Police getting real-time access to private security cameras

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Downtown businesses are giving area law enforcement agencies greater access to private video surveillance feeds under a new push to increase real-time monitoring capabilities in Grand Rapids.

Jack Stewart, Kent County emergency management coordinator, said the Grand Rapids Police and Kent County Sheriff’s departments are increasing access to the downtown surveillance apparatus under a new public-private partnership program.

The two agencies are tapping into private video feeds from existing cameras mounted on the exterior of private commercial buildings downtown, he said.

Previously, police would request video from private feeds during the course of a criminal investigation. Now, police will be able to monitor the feeds in real time from county and city dispatch centers.

“This is the same technology that helped catch the Boston Marathon bombers,” said Stewart. “This is not day-to-day monitoring. It’s just in the event of an emergency. There would have to be an event serious enough to trigger us to monitor the cameras.”

The program, which Stewart said is pursuing federal Dept. of Homeland Security grants to expand the surveillance capability downtown with new and upgraded equipment, has been in the works for several years.

“Some of the cameras are hooked-up already, but we’d like to offer to enhance and expand to other businesses and facilities that want to hook-up to the project,” said Stewart about uses for the possible grant money.

The program is a response to increasing activity in the downtown area, and disclosure of the project follows a pair of downtown shootings this month that have caused Grand Rapids police to step up their presence in the district.

Shots fired outside McFadden’s Saloon on June 15, and the shooting of a two teenagers downtown on June 18 after the Bruno Mars concert are “good examples” of when the technology would be used, said Stewart.

Large events like ArtPrize or the Fifth Third River Bank Run are also examples of when real time monitoring would be useful, he said.

Stewart said there are roughly 100 exterior video cameras right now that are or could be accessed under the program, many of them concentrated around government and critical infrastructure buildings.

Non-disclosure agreements precluded Stewart from naming specific businesses participating in the program, but some were willing to disclose that on their own.

Cameras mounted on Amway Hotel Corporation properties downtown are part of the program, according to Amway Corp. representatives.

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BodyGuard stun-glove leaps out of comic books

What’s better than a seasoned crime fighter? How about a seasoned crime fighter packing a 300,000-volt punch? A new prototype stun-glove is poised to make such Robocop-inspired dreams a reality, integrating a non-lethal taser, LED flashlight, and laser guided video camera into a fetching piece of futuristic armor. Activated by pulling out a grenade-like pin and palming an embedded finger pad, the Armstar BodyGuard 9XI-HD01 sparks a loud and visible arc of electricity between its wrist-mounted taser spikes, a sight that inventor David Brown hopes will encourage would-be crooks to surrender.

The gauntlet’s hard plastic shell is even roomy enough to add GPS equipment, biometrics, chemical sensors, or other embedded additions, as needed. The first batch of pre-production superhero gloves will hit the streets of LA later this year for testing and evaluation. Need more? Check out the via to see Kevin Costner (what field of dreams did he walk out of?) take the edge off this shocker in a surprisingly dull video.

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K-9s work to sniff explosives at Tampa airport

The decoy waited behind closed doors for a crowd to emerge from Tampa International Airport’s airside shuttle. Taking up a backpack and carrying a water bottle, he melded with the crowd heading toward security screening.

In the long, winding maze leading toward the checkpoint, John Forbes, a Transportation Security Administration employee, made his way toward the X-ray machines.

Up ahead, Explosives Detection K-9 Handler Brandy Smith walked Guiness down the rows, against the crowd.

The demure 40-pound Labrador mix eyeballed passengers lugging carry-­on bags and purses, occasionally sniffing.

The moment Forbes walked past, Guiness alerted, lunging toward the training decoy, then sitting next to his suspect. No aggression, no panic, no barking. His immediate paycheck: a few moments tugging at a squeaky toy.

Guiness is one of four explosives-detection dogs at Tampa International to screen passengers as they make their way toward the security checkpoint. About 100 screening dogs work for TSA throughout the country.

Passengers who get a casual sniff are sometimes fast-tracked through security using the TSA’s new precheck line, skipping the removal of jackets, shoes and laptops.

“That sniff deems them low risk” and allows security personnel to keep the line moving faster, said TSA spokesman Mark Howell.

Charles Cloyd, TSA K-9 supervisor and a onetime handler, said: “Right now, we are using them at the larger, busier airports. They are deployed based on risk.

“These dogs are excellent,” Cloyd said. “Their capabilities exceed electronic detection, and their mobility is another advantage.”

The dogs are carefully vetted before going through training, which takes place at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

If a dog shows signs of aggression or a lack of drive, it’s out.

The dogs are medium-sized so passengers don’t perceive them as intimidating, Cloyd said.

“People like them and tend to feel safer knowing they are sniffing their fellow passengers,” he said.

“These dogs can detect parts per trillion of explosives,” Cloyd said.

And it’s not just actual explosives, but also components of explosives, Cloyd said.

The dogs are trained specifically for this task, not for subduing other criminals or tracking down drugs. But they may detect someone with marijuana if it carries the scent of fertilizer, a potential bomb-making compound.

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Better security too expensive for many schools

At the Seattle University security headquarters, officers keep constant vigil over their campus.

“We’re just always looking for anything out of the ordinary,” says officer John Irby.

Irby monitors dozens of surveillance screens, while the images of two school shootings in less than a week replay over and over in his head. “It’s the last thing you ever want to see happen, but the first thing you think about in this job,” he says.

Cameras on campuses are now as common as textbooks. Texting and electronic notification systems are becoming quite common, as well. A new generation of school security is now allowing police to lock inside and outside doors remotely if a shooter is spotted on or near campus. The military uses “gunshot detectors” that hear gun fire and can track where the bullets are coming from. Few schools, however, can afford such expensive technology.

“This is something every police, fire and public safety person thinks about all the time,” says Seattle University’s Executive Director of Public Safety, Tim Marron.

Experts point out that everything that could’ve possibly gone right at last week’s deadly shooting at Seattle Pacific University did go right. But even a rapid police response, immediate lockdown and a heroic student security staffer couldn’t save everyone, and that’s troubling.

“Most campuses in this state are not prepared to the level that SPU is,” says school security expert Erick Slabaugh.
Slabaugh’s company, Absco Solutions, outfits schools with security systems. He says SPU is one of the safest schools he’s ever seen, but most others still lag behind because of the cost.

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Bulletproof blanket seeks to shield kids during school shootings

School shootings are a tragic reality. While much discussion has centered around prevention, ProTecht, a protective and safety products company in Oklahoma, has created a product it hopes kids will use in case such a tragedy strikes their schools. The Bodyguard Blanket is designed to offer a temporary shelter during dangerous situations, particularly school shootings.

While the Bodyguard is also built to help protect children from falling debris during natural disasters like tornadoes, much of the marketing around the product concerns the potential for school shootings. It’s the reason the blanket was created in the first place.

Technically, the Bodyguard is bullet-resistant. It’s made from the same materials used in military and law enforcement body armor. Instead of having kids put on a flak vest, though, it puts the material in a form that can be folded up and then unfolded to create a body shelter. It has straps that help hold it in place like a backpack. ProTecht posted a video of the blanket undergoing a ballistics test, if you’re curious about how it behaves under fire.

Bullet-resistant materials aren’t cheap. The Bodyguard comes with a price tag just shy of $1,000, though ProTecht hopes to partner with schools and nonprofits to make it more affordable to buy in bulk. Even with a substantial discount, it will likely be out of reach for many school districts.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a bulletproof product for the classroom. A bulletproof whiteboard that doubles as a shield appeared early last year. In a better world, no one would even have the impetus to dream up products like these. The Bodyguard Blanket will likely rouse a lot of differing opinions. Do you think it’s excessive or practical? Tell us in the comments.

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TSA recovers record setting number if guns in one day

CHESTERFIELD, Va. June 7 2014 — The Transportation Security Administration reports seeing an increase in guns at airport checkpoints.

The day after the agency reported stopping a record 18 guns at checkpoints nationwide on Thursday, two Virginia men were arrested for carrying guns.

Thursday’s reports became the most ever amount of guns detected at checkpoints in one day.

Friday morning TSA officers at two separated airports detected guns in the carry-on bags of the passengers.

Preliminary indications are that the incidents are not related.

Weapons—including firearms, firearm parts and ammunition—are not permitted in carry-on bags, but can be transported in checked bags if they are unloaded, properly packed and declared to the airline. Passengers who bring firearms to the checkpoint are subject to possible criminal charges from law enforcement and civil penalties from TSA. Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality and travelers should familiarize themselves with state and local firearm laws for each point of travel prior to departure.

Passengers are responsible for the contents of bags they bring to the security checkpoint, and TSA’s advice to passengers is to look through bags thoroughly before coming to the airport to make sure there are no illegal or prohibited items.

TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its web site here:

Airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition. Travelers should also contact their airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies.

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Sophisticated Puyallup heist nets burglars $1M in gold

PUYALLUP, Wash. — In what could have been a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie, police say a group of sophisticated burglars cut holes in several roofs to pull off a million dollar gold heist this weekend in Puyallup.

Police were called to Gold Definitions Monday morning after employees at the jewelry store realized they’d been cleaned out by thieves.

Officers arrived soon after, and it didn’t take them long to realize they were dealing with something a lot more sophisticated than a common smash-and-grab operation.

Sometime on Sunday, police say the burglars climbed onto the roof of the complex that houses the jewelry store and other businesses. The crooks then cut two large holes in the roof and lowered themselves down into two of the jewelry store’s neighboring businesses.

Once inside, they removed sections of the walls that led them into Gold Definitions, according to police.

After they got inside the jewelry store, police say the burglars cut away a portion of the wall that gave them access to a large safe containing as much as $1 million in gold.

“If you could call criminals professional, this is basically as professional as you can get,” said Det. Mike Lusk with the Puyallup Police Department.

Based on surveillance footage, police believe the entire operation took roughly four hours and the crooks got away with all the gold.

Police say the business was fully alarmed with motion sensors, but the alarm was somehow not tripped during the burglary.

“With our security cameras and our motion detectors, I didn’t think there was a single thing we could have done to have improved our security here,” said Lisa Catt with Gold Definitions.

Anyone with information about the heist is asked to call the Puyallup Police Department.

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Idaho colleges get ready for concealed weapons

A new Idaho state law takes effect July 1 and applies to people with an enhanced license to carry concealed weapons, along with retired law enforcement officers.

Public colleges and universities in Idaho are getting ready to comply with a new state law they strongly opposed: allowing concealed weapons to be carried on campus.

The law takes effect July 1 and applies to people with an enhanced license to carry concealed weapons, along with retired law-enforcement officers. College leaders universally opposed the law, but pro-gun-rights lawmakers pushed it through the Legislature this year.

Now college administrators and campus-security departments are preparing for the new reality: guns in lecture halls, labs, offices, cafeterias — everywhere but dormitories and entertainment venues with seating for more than 1,000, like stadiums and auditoriums.

“We intend to follow the law. Really, we don’t discuss the merits of the law. That was done, the law passed. We’re talking about implementation,” said Matt Dorschel, executive director of public safety and security at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

Higher-education leaders are revising campus-weapons policies to comply with the new law, although bans on openly carrying guns are expected to remain in effect.

Some colleges also plan to beef up their security. North Idaho College (NIC) in Coeur d’Alene will provide its security officers with bulletproof vests plus training related to concealed-weapon laws, and it may expand its seven-person security force by one full-time and one part-time position.

NIC also is mulling whether to arm its security workers for the first time, said Alex Harris, director of student development.

“I don’t know if we’ll go that direction, but it’s definitely out there and we’re considering it,” Harris said.

Another option, he said, is to work with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department to station a school resource officer on campus, similar to the officers present in middle and high schools.

All of these measures are unforeseen expenses at a time of budget cuts due to falling enrollment, Harris said. NIC’s enrollment this year dropped 11 percent from the previous school year — a trend that corresponds to the improving economy.

The vests will cost about $8,000, and arming and training security officers would cost $10,000 a year. The new security officers, or a school resource officer, would cost about $60,000 a year.

The 12,000-student University of Idaho anticipates no significant changes for its security force. The Moscow Police Department can respond quickly to emergencies on campus, and a university task force implementing the new law is not likely to recommend arming campus security, Dorschel said.

“We don’t think that anything about the law would impact our need to have other armed responders on campus,” he said.

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Two Sneaky New Spy Cams Coming Soon

When Google Glass started shipping out to early testers, privacy advocates were worried about the gadget’s face camera. Google Glass, they warned, represented a disconcerting new way for wearers to snap secret photos of anyone they were looking at.

Recently, however, two fully funded crowdsourced projects have proved that the humble iPhone can be just as secretive for sneaky snaps. The gadgets, called COVR Photo and the Peek-I, are both shipping soon, and both make taking a photo on your iPhone without your subject noticing a breeze.

All right. So maybe just wanting to sneak pictures of the cute guy sitting across the coffee shop from you isn’t quite an NSA-level invasion. And, truth be told, both of these so-called “spy cams” are pretty nifty extensions of the iPhone’s camera.

COVR Photo is an iPhone camera case developed in part by award-winning photojournalist Thomas Hurst. The case, made for the iPhone 5 and 5s, features a “periscoping lens.” That means you can position the phone flat in your hand to candidly snap pictures without interrupting “the uniqueness of what is unfolding before you,” as Hurst explains on the device’s Kickstarter page.

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Police Foundation gives $250K toward body cameras

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s effort to use body cameras – which can record officers’ interactions with civilians – is getting a $250,000 boost from a foundation that supports CMPD initiatives.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Foundation’s donation would bring the total amount allotted for cameras to $500,000 and will fund hundreds of them. The devices can be clipped to glasses, a collar or other parts of an officer’s uniform to provide video and audio of routine traffic stops, arrests and other interactions where conflicts can happen.

Police and civil liberties advocates say the cameras can give police and the public a better view of what happens during conflicts involving officers. In a pilot camera program last year, people who knew they were being recorded behaved better, officers said.

Last month, City Council approved buying enough cameras for about two divisions. The council would still have to approve a contract for the cameras, which would be funded by $250,000 of drug asset forfeiture money.

It’s still unclear how much each camera would cost. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Maj. Steve Willis, who heads the camera program, has said $250,000 would be enough to equip two of the department’s 13 patrol divisions. Ultimately, officers on different shifts might have to share cameras.

The cameras add to a growing focus on technology in the department, which already has access to hundreds of stationary cameras mounted on streetlights and telephone poles across the city. The department also uses Shot Spotter microphones to track gunfire in some areas of the city and tracks some crime suspects out on bond by satellite via GPS bracelets attached to their ankles.

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