Robberies Drop 28% after Metro Area Crime Center Comes Online
Captain David Thompson knew he wanted to be a police officer from the first time he watched the classic TV show CHIPS as a kid. He became a Police Explorer at just 14 years old and, when he turned 17, started working as a dispatcher and jailer. He was hired as a full-time officer after high school and then moved to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, where he has served the county for 28 years. It’s safe to say that, throughout his professional career, Captain Thompson never anticipated the Metro Area Crime Center (MACC), Jefferson County’s new state-of-the-art crime-fighting hub.
Captain Thompson is Director of the MACC, an innovative $1M facility that collates information from each of the 28 Jefferson County police services. The Center offers office space to each agency. So far, 14 agencies have committed an officer. The sheriff’s department supplies the technology, like a mobile camera unit and groundbreaking crime-prevention software. As important, the MACC brings together jurisdictions to communicate about active crimes and trends in crime.
“In simple terms,” Captain Thompson explains, “law enforcement doesn’t communicate well with lots of different police departments; criminals know they can travel from one area to another and take advantage of our lack of communication.”
My team has great vision and we’ve got some great partnerships – all this is to keep neighborhoods and communities safe – Mike Hale, Jefferson County Sheriff
Captain Thompson continues on to say that though high-profile cases get agencies to work together, smaller crimes like burglaries and car thefts are often not discussed between departments. The MACC offers a nucleus where this communication happens on a daily basis. This way, police can chart trends and relocate patrols and the portable camera unit, adjustments that have lowered crime significantly, according to statistics.
“No longer are criminals just my criminals,” states Sergeant Michael Keller from Vestavia Hills Police Department. “They’re moving into other jurisdictions and committing crimes all around the county. The MACC gives us the opportunity to bring those investigators together from multiple jurisdictions and be able to share information and intelligence and different pieces of the puzzle that are going to bring these crimes into perspective.”
Most of us hear about big, high-profile cases when many agencies work together but not the smaller, yet more persistent crime, when the agencies don’t put the pieces together. Even when one department has the information, the officers don’t share the intelligence with other departments.
If you have burglaries throughout multiple jurisdictions the MAAC puts its heads together – that’s what its built for – and more often than not we solve those cases – Mike Hale, Jefferson County Sheriff
Not so anymore, says Captain Thompson. “Our vision is to put the pieces together in the same room together. We also know for many departments adding technology is a budget issue. By assuming the cost of technology, the MACC currently draws 14 law enforcement agency representatives like Sergeant Keller daily. “We’ve become the focal point for intelligence, so even though it costs a lot to send an officer, a department can save money because we pay for all of the technology and the facilities.”
Captain Thompson says the closest thing to the MACC is the Fusion Center with one critical difference: The Fusion Center is a federal government agency. Nor do Fusion Centers focus on local crime. “We are the local ‘Fusion Center’ for sharing intelligence, deterring and solving crime for the average citizen: burglaries, car theft, car burglaries and robberies. These crimes are most easily thwarted with technology.”
Captain Thompson calls it “intelligence-led policing,” essentially using tech to solve crimes, like tracking a suspect’s utility bills to locate him rather than being left to rely upon the fake driver’s license he presented during a routine traffic stop prior to committing his crime.
“The reason we can focus on these bigger-picture situations is because our detectives don’t have a case load; they rarely talk to victims. They gather intelligence and serve as a help desk for other agencies. For example, a detective can come in and receive help identifying areas, trends and suspects. Basically, when the phone rings, they jump.”
Local statistics suggest success. Burglaries are down 11%, robberies are down 28%, and car theft is down 8.1% since intelligence-led policing became standard. The MACC can handle big cases as well. One year ago, there was an active shooter in Gardendale. But Gardendale had only 30 officers to complete the investigation. The suspect had come from Florida and killed his ex-wife and family. The MACC was able to collect video camera data, identify cars potentially involved, and crunch data to use the technology to discover the car and where the suspect was likely located.
The MAAC is an advantage for law abiding citizens, it’s not good for criminals – Mike Hale, Jefferson County Sheriff
“Within five hours, we identified the vehicle had been rented and then found the vehicle,” detailed Captain Thompson. “We were able to do the background check so the Gardendale police could process the crime scene. There was a statewide search for the car. When he was stopped—his whole plan fell apart.”
It isn’t just the big cases where the MACC makes a difference, but everyday crime prevention. All county reports are fed into a system that tells patrol officers where the crime may take place each day, and the sheriff’s department asks officers to spend 15 minutes where the crime may occur, based on past activity. Even if an officer has been out for two weeks, when he gets the computer program feedback, he can go and park in that area. The 28% reduction in robberies also means that many people have potentially not had a gun in their face or been robbed.
With such success, it’s not surprising Jefferson County is sending MACC officers as far as 100 miles to establish crime centers. They have also received visitors from Tennessee, Georgia and as far away as Ohio.
“Inter-agency cooperation is key these days because so much crime occurs in the digital world,” concludes Captain Thompson. “It’s always up to us to catch up to the criminals and force them to operate somewhere else, which makes our location safer.”
It sounds like the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department is going to have a lot of explaining to do to other departments about the huge success of their Metro Area Crime Center.