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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Telecommunicators Role in Gang Cases: A Police Officer's Perspective

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, December 2011

Written by Matthew O'Deane, PhD, investigator for the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.

When gang cops hit the street and begin the daunting task of addressing gangs and the crimes they commit, they typically have peace of mind in the fact that they have communications personnel standing by to assist. I have worked hundreds of operations against gangs and as I reflect on the individual operations, they were successful in large part due to the efforts of a telecommunicator assigned to the operation.

When working such operations as gang sweeps, saturation patrols, warrant compliance operations or daily street-level suppression, police officers need to have a skilled telecommunicator monitoring the operation frequency to make sure officers have the critical information they need in a timely manner.

During gang operations, the activity officers engage in is typically generated one of two ways, either via a radio call for service or a self-initiated contact.

During gang operations, telecommunicators often receive calls from individuals who need assistance or want to report suspicious or criminal activity they believe is being conducted by gang members or suspected gang members. The telecommunicator will determine the type of assistance needed by carefully listening to the caller. The questions a telecommunicator may ask will help them find out the type of issue, its severity and the location of the problem.

Taking these calls requires a considerable degree of initiative and independent judgment to respond to emotional, disturbed and sometimes abusive people in a variety of situations. Once information is obtained from the caller, the telecommunicator activates the necessary services. A good telecommunicator is critical in gang cases; the information they skillfully extract from callers may make the difference of life or death, or the difference of the suspect being apprehended or getting away.

Telecommunicators attempt to determine the location and nature of the call, the who, what, when and where questions ascertaining the gangs involved, monikers if known, descriptions of people and vehicles and so on. Once the information is received, the telecommunicator will determine which units are available for dispatch and send the appropriate number of units in response to the call for assistance.

Once units are dispatched, the work of the telecommunicator is not over. They must maintain contact with all units working that assignment, and maintain and update the status and location of all police units working the operation. Once officers arrive on scene, additional work is required of telecommunicators. Police officers will need the telecommunicator to enter, update and retrieve information from a variety of computer systems. Exampe: A police officer may arrive on scene and see the suspects in a vehicle, which may trigger a request for registration or driving records and warrant checks.

The telecommunicator must monitor public safety radio frequencies and operate a variety of communications equipment, including radio consoles, telephones and computer systems while assisting officers in the field. During these calls, the telecommunicator must monitor radio traffic before, during and after these contacts and investigations, and record their disposition. Many of these calls may result in an arrest, for example, which will require the arresting unit to be out of service for the duration required to process the prisoner(s). The telecommunicator may need to assign units case numbers; dispatch tow trucks, prisoner vans or evidence-collection units; or call out detectives. Telecommunicators maintain files of information relating to personnel rosters and emergency call-out lists to make the proper notifications and get the proper resources to the scene in a timely manner.

When gang officers make contact with gang members, the telecommunicator will often process information for the police officers. When an officer initiates contact with a gang member or group, the first thing relayed is often the location of the contact, followed by the catalyst for the stop, such as a gang fight in process, a group hanging out in front of market or possible drug activity.

The telecommunicators will enter this information and create a call in the system. Often, officers will request an additional unit(s) upon contact and the telecommunicator will want to get units heading that direction in as timely a manner as possible. At times, the initial contact may be an immediate priority, such as when suspects become confrontational with the officer making contact, requiring an urgent request for cover officers to respond, or suspects run away on contact, requiring the telecommunicator to help coordinate the set up of a perimeter and where responding units need to set up in an effort to contain the suspects.

Once the officers advise they have the contact under control, they will conduct inquiries via the telecommunicator to identify and investigate the incident and subjects. The telecommunicator will input and access information in the automated system at their disposal, including teletype networks and computerized data systems regarding firearms checks, wanted persons, stolen property, vehicle registration, stolen vehicles, etc. Officers may request such information as Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) or California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) checks. The telecommunicator will access and enter sensitive date in local/state/national databases as necessary to accomplish the goals of the specific gang operation.

The California Department of Justice and other states maintain information about the known criminal history of everyone arrested in their state. That information is commonly referred to as a "rap sheet." Data collected from fingerpring cards and arrest reports must be entered into the system, along with the case disposition. If officers are preparing to execute a search warrant at the residence of a gang member, for example, information relating to their past criminal activity is important to enable an informed decision as to how entry should be made.

The California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System provides all California law enforcement agencies with information from federal and state computerized information files. Other states have similar versions of this system, often named for their home state. The system provides fast and highly reliable point-to-point messages between law enforcement agencies about active warrants, wanted people, missing people, etc.

All information received from the officers in the field or the telephone callers is entered into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. The CAD system verifies the name, address and phone number of the caller and displays the nearest cross streets to the caller's address, as well as pertinent emergency services information. The system's advanced computer mapping system can pinpoint the caller's location to aid in directing units to the scene.

Another benefit to CAD systems is their ability to use crime mapping or geographic information systems (GIS), also know as geospatial information systems. These systems capture, store, analyze, edit, integrate, share, manage and display geographically referenced data that police officers working gang operations can take advantage of in the field. In a more generic sense, GIS is a tool that allows users to create maps and present the results of all the operations. The systems also help enhance a police officer's time on the streets by identifying hot spots of gang activity before gang operations are conducted and arming officers with information relating to locations where gangs have been most active, the days of the week and times of the day gang crimes have been reported. This provides insight about the gangs involved.

An officer or telecommunicator with access to GIS software and additional data-sets, such as parolee and probationer data, can run queries from a laptop in the patrol car and check how many parolees or probationers were recently released on their beat, the conditions of their release and if they have violated any of these conditions.

In addition to plotting the geographical attributes of gang crime, law enforcement agencies seek answers to why specific gang crimes occur in a certain area and evaluate long-term solutions to the problem associated with the particular location. This technology can be used for gang investigations, resource management, asset management and community impact assessment, which are important for managers who must justify and fund anti-gang efforts.

In many agencies, especially smaller police agencies, telecommunicators have collateral duties that take time away from their computer terminals. Some telecommunicators act as a matron/jailer and may be asked to assist with searches. For example, if a male officer believes a female offender has contraband she put in her pants on contact, a female matron may be a more appropriate choice to recover the contraband, and this may limit exposure to allegations of inappropriate contact.

It takes a special kind of person to be a telecommunicator. The essence of the job is being the lifeline to the people who are actually in harm's way. It is not less vital than risking bullets or assaultive gangsters.

Never forget that a telecommunicator protects and serves as much as the officers on the street and without a good telecommunicator on the other end of the radio, police officers would have a much more difficult and dangerous job.

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