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GPS Darts, Drones, Powerful Grid Of Cameras Helping Police Prevent & Crack Crimes

BOSTON (CBS) - There are dozens of cameras packed into a dimly lit room. Analysts are watching streets, parks and highways all over Massachusetts. It's the State Police Watch Center where data is collected, analyzed and shared with local police and officers on the street.

According to Lt. Colonel Dermot Quinn, it pays dividends every day. "Over the last few years, we have had a meteoric rise in the number of bomb threats coming in. So we track each and every one and they all go into a database," he explained.

State Police
State Police Watch Center (WBZ-TV)

Since the September 11th attacks, police have been assessing terror threat levels and gathering intelligence from thousands of sources, one of the most valuable has been surveillance cameras.

"Cameras are extremely important," explained WBZ Security Analyst, ED Davis. "We wouldn't have solved the marathon bombings if we didn't have a camera."

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from a street security camera.

Police are now putting cameras on drones, using them to fly over large crowds, and facial recognition systems are able to find suspects in a crowd from a photo. "It's not DNA, but it's a nice tool in the toolbox," Quinn said.

Another tool police have is license plate readers that are able to scan for cars involved in Amber Alerts, stolen vehicles and drug traffickers.

There is also the Star Chase system, which can make catching a suspect on the run in a car much safer. There is no need for lights and sirens. If a suspect tries to speed away from a traffic stop, officers shoot a GPS tracker onto the back of the car and use a computer to track it. "Electronically you follow the chase, rather than going 80–100 miles per hour," explained Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon.

Starchase GPS projectile (WBZ-TV)

But Police say the real game changer in crime fighting is DNA. A company in Virginia called Parabon is taking that science to a whole new level by giving DNA a face. "We focus on things that don't change with the environment, eye color, hair, skin as well as freckling," explained Dr. Ellen McRae Geytrak of Parabon. "We also do the shape of the face as well as ancestry, "she added.

Lisa Ziegert suspect sketch **DO NOT ALTER/EDIT**
(Image credit: Parabon-Snapshot)

Prosecutors used the Parabon technology to narrow down suspects in the murder of Vanessa Marcotte, the Princeton jogger who was killed back in 2016.

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The United States Secret Service is also using technology to track down pedophiles, thieves and scammers. Agents say much of the evidence they are looking for is digital, and it's often found on mobile phones. And while technology can help to find that digital evidence, according to Special Agent Stephen Marks, it can also be used to hide it. "We are not looking to invade privacy," he said. "But we want to access encrypted devices when we have a court order. That's the challenge for the future."

The Secret Service has 38 cyber-crime task forces operating in the US and Europe. The agency says over the last several years it has arrested more than 10,000 suspects and prevented billions of dollars in losses.

Web Extra: How State Police Track Suspects

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