FARMINGTON – The Farmington Police Department recently announced the launch of the Real Time Crime Center.
The center is a 24/7 operation within the police department that has access to city and business cameras as well as the ability to scan social media in real time when police identify a suspect. The officers then relay to officers on the ground what they discovered in the crime center.
Farmington Police Capt. Baric Crum, who headed the project, said he had seen a similar center in Albuquerque when the chief and other members of the department, including Crum, toured the facility.
“They showed us what it was capable of and some of the business arrangements they had made and some of the things they’ve done with (the center),” said Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe. “We came away thinking, ‘This is a great idea, but we’re a while away from doing it.’”
The Hobbs Police Department has a similar real time center. So members of the Farmington Police Department went to tour that facility as well as one in Utah.
Farmington police started the pilot project in 2020 with six cameras purchased with department funds. The cameras operate off cellular signals. Crum said the department considered radio but because of some foliage, it wasn’t going to work. Those cameras were placed by the river walk where police said there have been several incidents.
“We want people to feel safe on that river walk, so we started the pilot project there,” Hebbe said.
Meanwhile, Crum applied for a couple of grants through the state and ended up getting close to $500,000.
The department added more cameras along the river walk and then added cameras at some major intersections in conjunction with the traffic division. Hebbe said cameras were already at most of the intersections, but they did not record.
Other areas where cameras have been installed include East Main, Brook Haven Park and 20th Street, where police said drag racing is an issue. With the cameras, police can read license plates, identify drivers and ultimately issue citations to prevent further racing.
Now, there are 12 cameras at the Animas river walk, and Crum said another five or six will be installed in coming months. All cameras are and will be recording continuously, but the recordings will be available for only seven days.
Crum applied for a Department of Homeland Security grant and said he “made some of the other divisions mad, mainly the SWAT and bomb squad” because his project took funding that the other divisions were hoping for.
The state gave him $198,000, of which the department put $75,000 into the physical Real Time Crime Center. The rest of the money was used to purchase cameras that were installed at East Main and Hutton, all the way to the mall.
The department also has an agreement with the school district and is able to tap into its cameras, which number about 400 to 500.
This can come in handy, Hebbe said, in the event of a school shooting.
Aside from partnering with local businesses in a second phase, Hebbe said the department will pursue a third phase in which private residents can opt for their home security cameras to be part of the camera database.
In the center, monitors fill a wall and display different camera feeds from all over the city. Each camera moves around automatically to get better views of areas that are often problems.
One area the cameras zoomed in on showed a culvert drainage ditch that Supervisor Pat Flores said was a hiding place during a previous incident, when a chase suspect crashed his vehicle and crawled into the culvert.
There were three tunnels within it, so officers were not able to find him at the time. Meanwhile, the Real Time Crime Center kept cameras on the culverts and where they led, and eventually the officers monitoring the cameras saw the suspect emerge from the drainage ditch.
Spokeswoman and former dispatch operator Nicole Brown said she has had to dispatch officers “blind,” where they have few details about what they are responding to.
“As a dispatcher, I had so many calls where people were just screaming, and I’m just like, ‘Can someone please tell me what’s going on?’” Brown said. “I’ve had to dispatch out that way, ‘We have an open 911, people are screaming and we’re trying to get info.’ So officers are blindly responding to this call, whereas if they can get a camera on it, they can provide better information.”
Lt. Casey Malone gave another example in which officers might be dispatched to a house where a man is threatening people with a knife.
“Dispatch is getting that information and feeding it to officers as they are getting what little research (dispatch) can do,” Malone said. “Whereas (the crime center) is able to dive into it and see what priors have happened at that residence, what’s been the past issues, who are the players associated with this residence and maybe determine that the person who lives here continually has a mental health issue, and because (the crime center) is able to provide that to officers, that changes the approach. The goal at the end of this is everybody ends up safely.”
For some, the idea of cameras all around and “Big Brother” watching is a violation of privacy. However, the Farmington Police Department will provide yearly training to “ensure privacy of the residents,” Flores said.
Officers are not there to strictly scan for illegal activity, and the department said it won’t use it as a way to give traffic tickets for things such as running a red light that didn’t result in a crash.