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Technology is touted at day two of Urban Crime Summit

Updated: 2013-09-18T06:18:13Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

Gizmos and gadgets dominated the second day of the Urban Crime Summit.

Experts championed the investment being made in crime-fighting technology, such as license-plate-reading cameras and sound sensors that can triangulate acoustic signals, estimate where a gunshot was fired and transmit that location to patrol officers.

But such hardware, all agreed, founders without meaningful training for rank-and-file officers and integration with traditional law enforcement methods.

“Technology is not a ‘force multiplier,’” said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center of the Urban Institute in Washington.

“It is no substitute for officers in the field.”

The summit, convened by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to share crime-solving strategies among law enforcement and justice system professionals in Kansas City and St. Louis, brought several national and regional authorities Tuesday to Pierson Auditorium on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

Sgt. Brent Feig of the St. Louis Metro Police Department described how technology can be effective when combined with common-sense policing.

His department deployed 25 mobile cameras during the 2013 Fair St. Louis, the community’s annual Independence Day celebration, which draws thousands to the downtown area.

When officers learned that a resident had spoken of disrupting the fair, they found a recent photo of him on Facebook and then — using some of those cameras — picked him out from the crowd.

“He was removed from the (St. Louis) arch grounds,” Feig said.

Lt. Angela Coonce, also of the St. Louis police force, described how her department is not always the principal purchaser of crime-fighting technology. More often, she said, she and her colleagues are working with entertainment districts or neighborhood groups.

The challenge, she said, has become making the flood of information coherent and getting it to officers in the field.

“There is so much data out there,” she said.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James described how he wants to balance the benefits of technology with privacy and civil liberty concerns.

La Vigne agreed, saying the cost of not enlisting community and neighborhood groups in support of new technology can prompt resistance. She described the experience of leaders of a Southwest community who had neglected to include them before investing in new hardware.

“The community was completely blindsided,” she said, adding that the equipment has yet to be deployed in any significant fashion.

“If people don’t believe us or trust us, we get nowhere,” said Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté.

Not all the talk Tuesday was tech-related.

Amy Crawford, deputy director of the National Network for Safe Communities, described several new strategies being used successfully among urban communities. One of them, “custom notification,” involves proactive in-home visits by law enforcement representatives to those considered “active players” in criminal networks.

Such visits, which include possible legal consequences if criminal activities continue, seemed to be having an effect, she said.

Harold Pollack of the University of Chicago Crime Lab detailed the nature of homicides in Chicago, which led the nation with 506 homicides in 2012.

One factor, he said, is the lack of sophisticated coping skills among urban male teenagers.

“The weapon of mass destruction in our society is the 17-year-old boy,” said Pollack.

Programs that feature an increased emphasis of one-on-one mentoring have proved effective so far, he said.

Also challenging, he added, was the constant availability of guns.

“Guns are such a durable good,” Pollack said. “Some guns used in homicides have dated to 1945. They still work great.”

The summit reconvenes Wednesday in St. Louis.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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