Behind the scenes: Jacksonville’s Real-Time Crime Center

Jacksonville, FL — As Jacksonville continues to explore how to fight back against violent crime, WOKV is getting a closer look at one of the newest systems police believe will help not only their immediate response, but their investigation that follows.

IN DEPTH: Jacksonville's Real-Time Crime Center

WOKV was the first station to take you in depth on the RTCC proposal several months ago, outlining a pilot process, which the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office was already planning to move beyond. Sheriff Mike Williams says they have 20 cameras deployed right now and are planning for 80 more before the year is up. This year's budget allows for four hires dedicated to the RTCC, and two of those are currently on board.

“It’s more about us measuring our approach to this, taking our time, make sure we’re doing it right. We don’t want to put too much in too fast, and then have to pull back. So we’re taking our time in that,” Williams says.

JSO walked WOKV and our partner Action News Jax through the system, which centers on a software called CommandCentral Aware, that serves to streamline various data streams for quick and easy use by an analyst. The analyst hears dispatch audio and can see the notes from the dispatcher. The system can be set up to flag certain types of incidents, and automatically detects other useful resources- like ShotSpotter- that may be in the area. If there are cameras in that radius, they are triggered by the system, meaning it is no longer up to people to monitor potentially hundreds of camera feeds.

All of that information can help first responders and the very early investigation, and an analyst can even proactively monitor the video feeds for any suspicious circumstances. But the system is also used in the long-running work.

Surveillance footage can be downloaded and put in to another RTCC program which lets the analyst overlay video from different times and search for key features. If they have some suspect attributes to search for, that could mean taking two hours worth of surveillance and processing it in minutes, as opposed to needing officers to review it manually.

Williams says information like this has already helped in four or five priority cases, although he declined to say which. He says having the video can be invaluable when there is not a lot of witness testimony or there are conflicting accounts, because where they would previously have to sort through the statements and make judgement calls, they now have easily accessible and searchable video that can help point their investigation in the right direction.

“It gives us some very powerful analytical tools to be able to look through video, look for- again- people on bicycles, a white van, whatever it is that we’re looking for, and really shrink that time down that we’re spending on looking at and watching video kind of roll. The system will do that for us. And, again, that puts us quicker to whatever logical conclusion we’re looking for- are we catching a bad guy quicker, are we recovering a child quicker. All those things that you can imagine, you get out of something like this,” Williams says.

Analysts are also able to search historically, meaning they can go back and see surveillance from an overnight incident, when the station was unmanned. Currently, the RTCC does not operate 24-hours because of the limited staffing, but Williams says they hope to be in that posture some time next year. That also means increasing from the one current work station to four overall- one more would join the station that’s already set up at the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization, and two would be at the Police Memorial Building, which is JSO’s headquarters Downtown.

As they build up those hours, they’re also looking at continuing to build out the capabilities. The plan and budget is 100 cameras this year, with the early focus being pairing cameras with ShotSpotter locations, City parks, and Downtown. Williams says they could look to add even more cameras in the future, and while data would drive the decision on where those are placed, he believes areas like the 103rd Street corridor would be on the list.

Once they're more established, Williams says they will also look at adding cameras feeds that don't belong to JSO. Internet-based cameras have the ability to feed in to the RTCC, so Williams says they've already been in talks with businesses about gaining access to their surveillance feeds to use if there are incidents in that area. He says they could seek the same types of arrangements with home surveillance and City cameras as well. The City is in the process of upgrading hundreds of surveillance cameras, and the proposal that's been put forward would ensure the new cameras can network as JSO would need.

The growth within JSO’s own system requires additional funding. About $3 million has been put in to this project so far according to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and he says he’s willing to back investing in more, if it’s shown that that’s what’s needed. He says he and Williams have not yet talked about what the budget request for the next fiscal year will be, but prevention, intervention, and enforcement are all important elements that need investment in order to better public safety.

IN DEPTH: Jacksonville's $1.2 billion budget

"This is another tool that's gunna set the foundation not only for today, success today- the Sheriff talked about some of the success today- but even bigger success in the future, as we build this out. ShotSpotter, NIBIN, the way all this integrates, this is all a collective effort to have another tool to solve the problem," he says.

And while the City is using tools like this and exploring non-policing measures like Cure Violence as well, Curry says it's important to keep traditional means strong.

“We can make these investments in manpower and technology and people and after school programs and summer programs, but individual people are still making bad decisions. And so, we can’t force them to make good decisions. All we can do is invest in the enforcement to get them off the street, and then invest in the young people to make sure they make good decisions,” Curry says.

The RTCC also monitors the demands on JSO overall, through mapping of calls by incident type, tracking overall call volume, and more.

Curry says he knows it can be frustrating to see violence continue in the community while everything comes together, especially spikes like last weekend, when four people were killed and five others hurt in seven separate shooting incidents.

“Over the long term, you’re gunna get the results that you want. You can’t throw stuff against the wall and change a strategy and your way forward every time there’s a terrible tragic event,” he says.

Williams believes that within a year and a half, they will have the camera coverage and systems in place to truly maximize on the potential of the RTCC.

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