Police getting more whiz-bang equipment|Downtown precinct is ruled out for now

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Taser devices and Segway personal vehicles are already on order, and on Monday the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved spending $4,065 in federal money on a forensic cell phone extraction unit for the Vicksburg Police Department.

VPD purchases       this year

Taser devices…………..$14,500

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Phone extraction unit….$4,065

Video enhancement up to ………………………………$26,117

The extraction unit will allow detectives to recover information such as text messages, photos, recent calls, contacts, call histories and other information from cell phones and print it or store it, said Lt. Bobby Stewart.

“We can use it on victims’ cell phones with their permission or on suspects’ phones with a search warrant,” said Stewart, noting the technology does not allow for cell calls to be tapped or monitored in any other way. “We’ve already been using this technology, but in the past few months we’ve had to go to other agencies who have it to get it done, which can take up to a week or more.”

The new technology is being purchased via a $30,182 Justice Assistance Grant, which requires no local match. The department anticipates spending the rest of the grant money on video enhancement equipment, which will allow detectives to clean up images from security cameras and produce still shots, said Stewart. The department has been soliciting the Regional Organized Crime Information Center in Nashville to use its forensic video technology when needed, a process Stewart said can take several months.

In delivery are 16 Taser stun weapons and two Segway vehicles — both of which are also new to the department. The Taser weapons, which produce an electrical shock to subdue suspects without deadly force, cost about $14,500. The department is spending $12,780 on the Segway vehicles, which are two-wheeled upright scooters. 

Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the scooters and lasers should arrive in two weeks, and added all officers equipped with Taser will have to pass a training course and receive the electrical shock themselves.

“I want our officers to understand the full effect of this equipment,” said the chief, who was Tasered in training while with the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol. “And any time an officer uses the Taser they will have to submit a use of force form explaining why they used it.” 

Meanwhile, Armstrong said plans for a satellite precinct downtown have been scrapped in favor of a plan to bring on two community resource officers. In response to increasing calls and concerns about loitering, Armstrong in August said he hoped to open a satellite precinct in the area by the holidays.

“It is off the table for now. Finances played a part, plus the close proximity of our headquarters to downtown already,” Armstrong said. “We have since hired a couple of civilian community resource officers as an alternative, and in addition to that we’ll have a very heavy police presence leading into the holiday season — not only downtown, but also at the (Pemberton Square and Outlets at Vicksburg) malls.”

The community resource officers are in training, Armstrong said, and should be ready to hit the streets as a liaison between the community and the department in about two weeks.

“This is brand new. We’re going to have two to start, and if it works out we may add more, but that’s not in the immediate plan,” Armstrong said. “We have a lot of situations we deal with that can be handled by non-sworn-in personnel, and that’s what they’ll focus on.”

The community resource officers will have the authority to write parking tickets, but will not have arresting powers or the authority to write other citations. Armstrong said they will take reports of misdemeanor crimes that do not require a uniformed officer, and will aid in communicating with downtown residents, visitors and business owners.

Armstrong said no decision has been made on whether police cruisers should be stripped of tracking devices that keep up with their whereabouts and speed. Mayor Paul Winfield suggested the department do away with the GPS technology during budget discussions in August, arguing the city could save upward of $60,000 annually. Armstrong said at that time he would take it under advisement, but has not spoken either in favor of or against the idea since. The technology was installed in all cruisers about three years ago at an initial cost of $360,000.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com