Fresno Real-Time Crime Center
Fresno Police Department
NOTE: Fresno's RTCC operations were suspended in 2020 due to staffing and budget shortages. This included ending live monitoring of Fresno's Video Policing Program, although footage can be obtained by detectives after a crime has occured. This case study was drafted prior to the news that the program was shut down. FPD has indicated it may restart the program in the future.
Source: Fresno Police Department
Fresno’s Real-Time Crime Center (RTCC) is located at the Fresno Police Department (FPD) headquarters in the heart of downtown Fresno.
Utilizing a combination of crime data analysis and computer-aided dispatch, the FPD RTCC is in round-the-clock operation, handling more than 50,000 high priority calls per year. A dozen large video monitors are mounted on the walls of the control room with many more monitors at workstations staffed by analysts. In addition to access to nearly 3,000 camera feeds, the RTCC also has access to footage from body-worn cameras, traffic cameras, automated license plate readers (ALPRs), and a network of gunshot detection devices.
In July 2015, Fresno RTCC became operational, with a startup cost of about $600,000 derived entirely from private donations. The center was confronted with pushback from the community in 2015 and 2016 when the public learned that Fresno Police were using social media monitoring software and other programs that scoured the Internet for publicly available information, and analyzing that information to determine the threat level of a given individual.
Real-Time Crime Center Operations
The Real-Time Crime Center in Fresno combines an array of surveillance technology, including body-worn cameras, automated license plate readers, gunshot detection technology, and a large video wall with which detectives and analysts use to access the vast camera network throughout the city. Analysts also have access to criminal justice databases operated by the department, as well as the Fresno County Sheriff’s information systems.
Outside the Real-Time Crime Center
FPD’s RTCC is linked with over 400 body-worn cameras used by 800 police officers, patrol vehicle dash cameras, and numerous strategically placed ShotSpotter gunshot detection devices. As of 2015, the RTCC reportedly also used at least two static ALPRs and an undisclosed number of Vigilant Solutions mobile ALPRs (license plate readers attached to cameras) at a price of $50,000 per year for the software. However, Fresno disclosed to the California State Auditor that it had eight mobile ALPR and was not using stationary cameras.
According to the Fresno Police Department’s 2018 annual report, RTCC operators can access 3,000 public and privately owned cameras. This includes access to more than 200 Pelco Spectra Enhanced pan/tilt/zoom cameras, and Pelco Optera Panoramic Multi-sensor cameras at various intersections and public buildings. The RTCC also has access to over 250 Traffic Operations Center cameras, 1,500 Fresno Unified School District cameras, the camera system installed at Fresno City Hall, and cameras at the River Park Shopping Center.
Inside the Real-Time Crime Center
According to news reports, the Fresno RTCC has nearly 60 wall-monitors throughout the center, with a main wall of 12 large monitors. There are eight workstations, each equipped with up to six monitors for crime analysts. In addition, the RTCC has three Mondopads, which are essentially video conferencing monitors that allow for direct communication with the department’s mobile command center and the Joint Multi-Agency Command Center. Many of the staff are retired officers and dispatchers, and officers on limited duty due to injuries, according to the department’s 2015 annual report.
A more recent departmental annual report claims that RTCC personnel handled 52,820 high-priority calls in 2018. “If the dispatch information includes an address as opposed to an intersection, operators can pull up the names and histories of persons most likely residing at that address, allowing the operator to check for warrants, restraining orders or a history of violence,” TechBeat reported. RTCC analysts also have the ability to reposition cameras to help with the 911 response.
The RTCC also uses PredPol predictive policing software, which automatically analyzes crime data and identifies areas where the algorithm determines crime could potentially occur. However, in 2018, the agency rejected a California Public Records Request that sought information related to the efficacy of the system.
Uses and Controversies
A Fresno spokesperson told TechBeat that it had not conducted “any studies on whether our RTCC has reduced crime numbers,” but cited anecdotes such as using the cameras to identify vehicles potentially involved in robberies and suspects in murder cases.
One of the most controversial programs was a threat assessment system called “Beware,” funded with federal grant money. As the Washington Post reported, Beware automatically runs the addresses related to 911 calls, and “the searches return the names of residents and scans them against a range of publicly available data to generate a color-coded threat level for each person or address: green, yellow or red.” How the system arrived at these conclusions was considered a trade secret by the maker, Intrado. In one highly publicized case, a man with gang affiliations and a previous firearm-related conviction threatened his ex-girlfriend. Beware determined the man’s threat assessment level to be the highest color-coded level, red. When the police arrived, the man surrendered, and upon arrest, the man in fact had a firearm in his possession.
The Fresno City Council expressed concern over Beware’s color-coded threat assessments, citing an instance in which a woman had a false threat-elevation due to her use of the word ‘rage’ on Twitter, making a reference to a card game. Fresno’s City Council since voted unanimously to deny FPD’s request to permanently purchase Beware.
City of Fresno: Police Department Annual Report 2018
City of Fresno: Police Department Annual Report 2015
TechBeat: Fresno Real-Time Crime Center Helps Resolve Incidents Safely
Fresno Bee: Fresno police unveil state-of-the-art crime tracking system
Washington Post: The new way police are surveilling you: Calculating your threat ‘score’
ABC 30: Fresno police unveil Real Time Crime Center, civil rights advocates worry
Asmag.com: Fresno PD improves safety management with Pelco surveillance solution
ABC 30: Fresno police scanning social media to assess threat
ABC 30: Shotspotter detects 100 calls of gunfire as Fresno enters 2020
Washington Times: Social media surveillance at center of Fresno anti-crime tool
Fresno Bee: Fresno City Council rejection of Beware is sign of the political times
ACLU of Northern California: It's Time to Shine a Light on Police Surveillance in Fresno
Tenth Amendment Center: Feds Fund Local Experiment With Orwellian Computer Software