Marana PD showcases new crime fighting tool in vehicles

Marana PD showcases new crime fighting tool in vehicles

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Marana Police Department is equipped with state of the art technology to help in the search for suspects, vehicles, missing people and evidence.

Five of the department’s patrol vehicles just received thermal imagers, previously only offered for police aircraft, to search an area more thoroughly and effectively with infrared technology, according to Sgt. Chris Warren.

The officers will be able to see and record images on the computer screen inside the patrol car.

The cameras are mounted on spotlights on select patrol cars, and wired to a laptop.  An officer can then see as clear as day in the dark, on his or her laptop screen.

Officer Mike Holberg is one of the first to use the technology.

"It's a really cool piece of equipment.  As soon as they said we get to see at night, I raised my hand and said put it on my truck please," said Officer Holberg.

Those working the night shift knew the challenges of looking for suspects in the dark.

"People use the night time to their advantage.. This tool takes that completely away.  The ability to hide in the dark is a very big tool for criminals, and they know this," said Holberg.

Police showed us how the technology works in a dark garage.  Police said while you could see humans well, the camera would not let them see through walls or solid objects.

An Operation Stonegarden grant from the US/AZ Department of Homeland Security helped fund the equipment.

Marana Police said the thermal imaging would have the following uses:

- While light reflects off of foliage, infrared from a person behind a bush is radiated through the foliage, allowing better detection in both day and night conditions.

- Tossed weapons and contraband are thermally evident against cold ground.

- Accident investigations yield heat clues in latent tire tracks and skid marks, unseen by sight.

- Infrared reflects off windows, metal structures, smooth concrete walls and other opaque surfaces providing a mirroring ability around corners in day or night.

- Air gaps and surfaces touching each other can give heat clues as to hidden compartments, fluid levels, etc.

- Infrared is less prone to scattering and absorption by smoke, dust, and fog.

- See without being seen. Allows stealth surveillance and approach from within safety of vehicle.

- Element of surprise gives better situational control. Reduces opportunity for the suspect to flee and high speed chases.

- Night viewing by sight requires flashlights and searchlights which reveals the pursuer's position, giving advantage to the suspect who wants to stay hidden or surprise attack.

- Infrared viewing allows safer search capability while the suspect remains 'in the dark' until you are ready to illuminate them with your spotlight.

- In search and rescue, seconds count. Missing or injured persons can be located before lengthy search deployments are required.

- Infrared won't “bloom” or become blinded when hit with bright light, such as headlights.

Police also hoped to use the technology to help find missing people lost out in the desert, or while searching fields.

We checked to see if any other local agencies had similar technology.  Tucson police said their cruisers were not equipped with thermal imaging cameras.

Pima County Sheriff's officials said they had similar cameras called FLIR cameras, but they were only in the planes/helicopters, none in the patrol cars and there were no plans to purchase more at this time.

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