Technology helps reduce crime in Gulfport

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The City of Gulfport experienced a significant drop in most crime categories last year. And the police chief gives technology much of the credit.

Violent crime in Gulfport dropped 29 percent in 2008 compared with the year before. Property crimes were down 22 percent.

New technology like putting laptop computers in all police cars is helping Gulfport take a pro-active approach to fighting crime.

Laptops are now standard equipment in Gulfport police cars. Officers can do criminal background checks and file police reports from their patrol car.

"That is our ultimate goal, for them to be able to do as much as possible in the field. That way they stay in their areas and they're visible to the community and visible to the criminal also," said officer Rick Fisher.

Along with producing "paperless" police reports the laptops also enable officers to access helpful information when responding to a call.

"An example of that may be a house that has several large dogs in the yard. It can be as simple as that. But that helps that officer on his way to that call. He has all that information available to him before he gets there," Fisher explained.

Real time information is transmitted from laptops in the field to the records division at headquarters. Instantaneous tracking of crimes allows police to assign officers where they're most needed.

"I shouldn't have a citizen calling me and telling me, 'Chief, we have a problem with burglaries in the area where I live.' I should already know that. And that's what we're doing here," Chief Alan Weatherford said.

Using laptops in the field and specialized computer software at headquarters allows police to not only track where crime occurs but actually predict where it's most likely to happen again.

It's a far cry from just a few years ago.

"They would go through copies of paper reports and they would stick little pins in that map. And kind of keep up with what's happening," said a smiling Fisher.

New technology assures those days are history.

"A combination of technology and what the employees are doing here, we're making a difference," said Chief Weatherford.

A series of 11 towers scattered throughout the city gives Gulfport police the wireless coverage they need for those computers.

The coverage area is now about 83 percent of the city. Five more towers are coming on-line and should boost that coverage to around 95 percent.