California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 14

Right spot, quick action Chowchilla chief tracks ‘wobbly’ Cessna and catches alleged thief video-chat calls per day, Gamez said. Hours of service will be expanded to include weekend and evening hours, and bilingual officers will be added if customer usage warrants it, he added. One recent caller whose home was burglarized used the new video-chat service to tell police he discovered more items missing from his home. He gave the officer on his laptop screen a list of the additional stolen items, and the officer emailed him an updated police report. “This is all about increasing the ability of our community to connect with us in real time,” Gamez said. “We want folks to freely call in.” He already is getting calls from police chiefs around the country about how the video and textchat service works, and how much it costs the department — under $200 for a trial program. Currently operating Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the service requires a person to click on a button on the Redwood City PD website. Up pops the face of an officer sitting in front of two computers ready to answer a question. The user of the service is not required to have his or her computer camera on, the chats are not recorded, and the police can’t trace the user. Redwood City officers assigned to modified duty because of injuries or other reasons — thus relegated to desk work — currently work the shifts on the video chat desk, with staff members ready to pitch in if demand for the service grows. “We aren’t taking a cop off the street to do this,” says Gamez, who oversees a department of 90 sworn officers and a total staff of 125 who serve this city of about 78,000. Since launching the service in late June, the Redwood City PD is averaging about 30 to 35 Gamez is an avid proponent of social media as a tool for law enforcement. A 26-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department, Gamez said video interactivity sets a new standard of “communitycentric” policing. Residents of Redwood City, he said, can use Live Guide to receive live online assistance with any concerns or questions about police services, and help with reporting crimes online. Gamez said he believes live video chat will drive down calls for service and allow the police department to send more officers into distressed areas of the city where they can better serve residents. “We’re really excited about this,” Gamez said. • “This is all about increasing the ability of our community to connect with us in real time... We want folks to freely call in. ” Chowchilla Police Chief Jay Varney picked up his office phone. “There’s always something to do when I’m at my desk,” the 29-year law enforcement veteran said. Recently, Varney got to do something out of the ordinary for most police chiefs: respond to a crime in progress. He happened to be in the right place at the right time when, at around 2:30 p.m. on March 21, he spotted a Cessna 172 flying erratically on its final approach to Chowchilla Municipal Airport, which is located only about 1/3 of a mile from the Chowchilla Police Station. 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