Thursday, July 20, 2000

Thermal imager can cast away darkness for cops

Federal grant allows $20,000 purchase

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Officer Matt Mullins is reflected in the lens of a thermal imaging camera.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        INDEPENDENCE — The opportunity to use a thermal imager to find criminals in the dark has Independence Police officer Matt Mullins looking forward to working the graveyard shift later this summer.

        The 22-person police force sent Patrolman Mullins to Phoenix for a one-week training program in May after receiving the hand-held imager through a grant. The camp is run by the Law Enforcement Thermographers Association — made up of mostly retired law-enforcement officials.

        The grant was through a program established by the federal government to transfer military technology to civilian use. The imager is made by defense contractor Raytheon.

        Chief Shawn Butler said he could never justify spending $20,000 on an imager that his department might use only a dozen times a year.

        He said the grant allowed the department to have some of the latest crime-fighting tools it otherwise couldn't afford. The camera rents for $2,000 a day from companies that lease industrial equipment.

        Independence is one of only two Northern Kentucky police departments with the thermal imager. The other agency is the Florence Police Department. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Department has a similar unit mounted on its helicopter.

        The imager weighs a little more than two pounds and is about the size of a camcorder.

        A person looking through its lens can see people in detail, even how many fingers they are holding up. The imager can see a person in total darkness, an improvement over night-vision goggles that need ambient light to work.

        Independence police hope to use the imager to help them catch people growing marijuana indoors.

        The imager can help police find homes venting heat generated from lamps used to grow marijuana plants indoors

        “I don't drive through people's neighborhoods and randomly scan their house with this camera,” Patrolman Mullins said.

        The imager is just another tool police can use to establish probable cause in an investigation of indoor marijuana growers, he said.

        Police now check utility records, criminal records and rummage through trash cans of people they suspect of growing marijuana.

        Independence has never busted a major indoor marijuana growing operation, but Kentucky is a major producer of marijuana.

        “We don't know how many people are growing dope, but we suspect a lot,” Patrolman Mullins said.

        Chief Butler stressed that the imager has other uses.

        “I think it is important to realize that the camera could be used for other things, such as a lost child, fleeing suspect,” he said. “There are a lot of practical uses over and above the drug stuff.

        “You find one child in a wooded area, it is worth having this camera.”

        The Cincinnati Enquirer/PATRICK REDDY Patrolman MattMullins is reflected in the lens of the thermal imager recently acquired by Independence Police.


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- Thermal imager can cast away darkness for cops
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