Covert Ops: Long Island’s High-Tech War on Crime

Long Island's High-Tech War on Crime

With a recent slaying in Roosevelt, a team of Nassau County police manning an inconspicuous location in Massapequa stand at the ready. The unsolved murder has ignited tensions in the neighborhood, and their unit is determined to stamp out the flames.

Suddenly an alert goes off—there’s been another shot fired in the neighborhood. They launch into action.


Simultaneously, other officers at police headquarters in Mineola are notified. So are the local precinct cars, which descend on the scene as detectives pull video footage from an onsite camera.

The blurred images reveal a small group of men hanging out on a street in front of a known Bloods gang house, the site of the previous shooting. A silver Infinity emerges from the corner of the screen, slowly pulling up to the group. A gun is visible and the shot goes off.

The detectives don’t recognize the faces, but they call in the local cops who do. They run any plates from that area at that time and put out an alert to other officers approaching the scene. They’ve identified the shooter and his vehicle and warn cops at the scene that the occupants are armed and dangerous.

Within minutes, the cops find the car with a gun inside. Its occupants are arrested.

“What was going to happen?” asks Det. Sgt. Patrick Ryder, head of the elite unit. “They were going to confront each other and shoot each other. One was going to die.”

Ryder and his team were able to respond so quickly and so effectively primarily due to just one of several state-of-the-art, high-tech weapons in their ever-growing arsenal: the ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection System, a precision-based gunfire, surveillance, analysis and alert system.

Sensors located on top of buildings and light poles identify the sound of a gunshot and differentiate it from other noises, such as a vehicle backfire or fireworks. Up to 20 sensors are installed per square mile, each able to detect gunfire within a 1- to 2-square mile range. A Global Positional System relays information about a shooting within six seconds of a firearm’s discharge. The system can identify how many shots were fired, which shot was fired first, and if the shots came from a moving vehicle. It can also pinpoint the location of a gunshot to within three feet.

The quick response and apprehension in Roosevelt is but one example of Nassau’s Intelligence-Led Policing at work, a program touted by top police officials in Suffolk, too. Mostly operating behind-the-scenes of local communities, the initiative is a whole new way to approach law enforcement, from home invasions and burglaries to crimes more severe, such as assaults and murder. Every day this strategy is being utilized across Nassau and Suffolk counties, whether residents—or criminals—know it or not.

Officials hope it can help fill the gap left by the retirement of hundreds of cops in the last few years.

Major crimes including murder, rape, assault, robbery and burglary are up in Nassau and slightly down in Suffolk, according to crime statistics encompassing the first six months of this year. The number of police in both counties has been on a historically precipitous decline. And more and more Long Islanders are arming themselves, following a national trend. All of these factors speak to the added weight placed on local precincts to not only keep crime rates down and neighborhoods safe, but to work more efficiently with the resources they currently have.

Supporters say proof of the program’s impact is as evident as simply walking down the blocks of the communities in which it’s utilized.

“Go back to the community and they will tell you it is safer now,” says Nassau County Police First Deputy Commissioner Thomas Krumpter. “They know it is safer, they know there are less shots fired.”

Yet despite its successes, this means of warfare isn’t without its detractors, who criticize the tactics as an affront to civil liberties or merely smoke and mirrors designed to cover up what is a dangerously low level of cops on the streets.

“You can have all the intelligence in the world and it is not going to tell you that some guy is coming out after having a couple of drinks and decides to stick up a gas station,” says Joseph King, a professor of law and police science at John Jay College. “Nothing is going to tell you that. The only thing that may tell you that is a patrol officer driving by and seeing something.”

Nassau’s headquarters for its program is as covert and unassuming as some of its technologies—the NCPD Real-Time Intelligence Center housed unsuspectingly right under residents’ noses.

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