Philly police want to jump on high-tech policing bandwagon

The goal is to streamline the paperwork process and add high-tech criminology and even drones to help those on patrol.

A close-up of a police car.

File photo: A Police vehicle near the scene of a shooting in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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As part of City Council budget hearings, Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said he’s using part of his budget to bring in high-tech help for officers in the field and the city’s crime labs.

Tech tools like unmanned aircraft or drones could soon be used for everything from helping first responders to possibly saving lives.

“If an officer’s going to be walking into a situation where he may have to use force, if a drone can go in there, and visually see that, and minimize that, that is a positive,” Bethel said.

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He told a City Council budget hearing that drones are the future of policing in Philadelphia, and they’re already being used extensively and successfully in other municipalities.

“We are looking at drones offering situational awareness. We will be testing a model with Axon to see how that effectively we can do that. We do have to have partners in this situation from the Defenders Association, the DA’s office and others to make sure that we’re meeting the threshold of what’s needed,” he said.

That threshold includes not violating anyone’s civil rights while using drone aircraft.

The commissioner also hopes to improve forensics in the city. He told council members that the department is moving closer to finding a location for a new forensics lab. This would speed up the processing of DNA and shell casings, giving investigators the help they need to solve crimes more quickly.

The budget currently provides funding for capital improvements and the hiring of new scientists who will undergo a year and a half of training to use the new high-tech gear.

There will also be more phones issued to cops, although they won’t replace traditional police two-way radios, which work in some places the phones do not.

DA Larry Krasner has been calling for additional crime lab funding to close more cases and remove more criminals from city streets. Krasner said the labs can process evidence and help prosecutors convict more people based on evidence found at crime scenes in the courtroom.

It’s not just field work that’s getting a high-tech makeover. The department is also testing virtual training for the municipal police officer certification instead of bringing officers to the police academy for classroom instruction.

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“We are working on a model now in one of our districts. If that goes well, we’ll continue to roll that out across the city. For the first time, they will not be required to go anywhere to do that training; they could do it at home. We’ll give them time in their workplace, but they’ll be able to do that.”

Bethel said moving to a virtual training model also gives officers time to work on new skills that they can use immediately.

“They are asking for deep conflict resolution. We’re asking to do officer wellness and wellness training, but we have not made the time to make that happen.”

Bethel said if the virtual training model works, it will help give more cops what they need to succeed.

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