Looking to combat crime on campus and in the Home Park neighborhood, Georgia Tech police have teamed up with Atlanta police and are reaching out to the community.
They're also rolling onto the streets a cool, new crime-fighting tool.
Tech police for about two weeks have tested a new mobile surveillance system called SkyCop. The high-tech policing device can stream live video from remote locations, scan license plates to check for stolen cars and flash blue lights just like a patrol car.
"We're testing it," Tech's Deputy Police Chief Robert Connolly said Tuesday night at a meeting of the Home Park Community Improvement Association. "So far we like it."
Real Deal on Crime
That evening, Tech's First Lady Valerie Peterson, wife of President Bud Peterson; four Atlanta police officers, including Zone 5 Commander Maj. Chris Leighty; and three Georgia Tech police officers met with Home Park residents to discuss crime in the neighborhood.
on Tech students have been widely publicized in the news. But Leighty said public perception is somewhat off, calling the area "one of the safest" in the city.
Leighty said in the past 60 days, there have been six pedestrian robberies in police Zone 5, which covers Midtown and Downtown. Four of those robberies occurred around Home Park and Georgia Tech. Police have arrested two people in connection with those incidents, Peterson said.
"Yes, we are kind of in a rash of crime right now," Peterson said. But she said, overall crime on campus is trending down at Tech, compared with past years. She handed out crime data that showed Tech had less reported crime in 2010 than schools such as the University of Georgia.
What SkyCop Can Do
Tech police Tuesday night gave Midtown Patch a demonstration of SkyCop, the technology police now are testing in the community.
SkyCop provides “eyes in the sky on wheels,” says the manufacturer. The boxy device is mounted on a trailer that's easily towed by truck to areas police want to monitor.
The device has four cameras including two round, motion-sensitive cameras that can rotate 360 degrees at the touch of a finger on a computer screen.
There's an infrared camera that scans license plates, running tag numbers by a “hot list” of stolen cars that's updated daily by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. often drive stolen cars when committing pedestrian robberies.
The fourth camera serves as a security device for the system itself.
SkyCop can extend its cameras 18 feet in the air, Connolly said. Police can operate the device remotely from their smartphones or inside patrol cars via a wireless network.
"It's really simple," Tech Officer Larry Pettiford said Tuesday night as he showed off the device.
SkyCop is very efficient, Tech Officer Serge Lambotte said, because it has a battery pack and generator. The system can run on its own for days, he said.
“When you deploy it, you pretty much don’t have to do anything,” Lambotte said.
The other day when SkyCop operated from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., the device used 1.3 gallons of gas, he said.
Connolly said campus police still are working "all the kinks out." He couldn't yet say if SkyCop will become a permanent policing tool for the institute.
Here's additional public safety information about recent efforts in the Tech and Home Park area:
- The Midtown Alliance has donated money to purchase a joint patrol car for the Home Park and Georgia Tech area. Both Atlanta police and Tech police can use the vehicle, which Connolly said soon should be up and running.
- Atlanta Police Chief George Turner approved overtime hours, Leighty said, so currently three to five Atlanta police patrol Home Park between the hours of 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.
- The should result in better police coverage to the Georgia Tech/Home Park area, Leighty said. There are now two police beats in the area that are smaller in size. Home Park, he said, has at least two officers on duty 16 hours a day. The goal is to have two officers 24 hours a day.
- Atlanta police have conducted special operations within Home Park, Leighty said. The APEX unit has conducted plain-clothes patrols and the narcotics squad recently made a "pretty significant arrest" at a drug house on Haines Street, the police commander said.
- Tech students are taking finals this week and many will journey home on Friday for the holidays. Leighty said he expects crime in the area to transition from robberies to burglaries. He asked residents to keep an eye on those properties during the break.