Eau Claire Police Department keeps up with changing technology

Police squad cars are full of different technology, from the laptop loaded with databases, to the sensor that triggers traffic lights to turn green for officers responding to a 911 call, Roder said. ©2014 Breane Lyga

Police squad cars are full of different technology, from the laptop loaded with databases, to the sensor that triggers traffic lights to turn green for officers responding to a 911 call, Roder said. ©2014 Breane Lyga

Story by Breane Lyga, Freelancer

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According to her employees, Sylvia Hedge runs a tight ship as the store manager of the Eau Claire Sears. But even the most organized retail stores can be a victim of theft.

In September 2007 two shoppers stole a flat screen television from Sears and employees gave police officers the license plate number. The case was never resolved, Hedge said.

Last winter, a woman left Sears without paying for a boxed stroller with other merchandise stuffed inside the box. Police ran the license plate number, and the car was located in a neighboring community with the merchandise still inside.

“The police department has gone from using very basic technology to very elaborate technology in the past couple of years,” Community Relations Officer Kyle Roder said. “We have officers still working in our department who have worked here when there was only one computer and now a computer is considered basic equipment.”

Most of the equipment the police department has is provided through different grants from the state and federal government such as alcohol enforcement grants, where officers look for drunk drivers. Grants allow the police department to get equipment so it doesn’t come directly out of their budget or from the city taxpayers, Roder said. On average, Eau Claire residents spend $12.3 million per year on police enforcement, $184.03 per resident.

Like tracking a vehicle’s license plate number with precision, most cases now have a technological element to them.

“We used to think that a forensic computer lab for police was simply used for child pornography and those types of investigations,” Roder said. “Really, any case we deal with now has some element, either through a computer or a smartphone.”

Voelker

Voelker

Detective Mike Voelker is the coordinator of the Technical Services Unit that specializes in the use of advanced technology, such as surveillance cameras. Last summer, a business on the north side of Eau Claire reported repeated vandalism, graffiti and gas syphoning.

“With (the owner’s) permission we installed video cameras at the location, and the camera caught the suspect walking right up to the window and essentially pressing his face to the window,” Voelker said. “You couldn’t get a bigger image of this person if you asked for it.”

That night the suspect showed an escalation in behavior by breaking into the business. Police showed up at the location and arrested the suspect.

“At the Eau Claire Department on a day-to-day basis our patrol officers are surrounded by technology in their office,” Roder said. “And their office is a squad car.”

This week, Sears hired a Loss Prevention manager, a position that had been non-existent for the past four years.

“Some of the criteria corporate looks at when deciding to staff someone for loss prevention is how other retailers are handling loss prevention,” Hedge said. “They also look at the crime rate in the community and at our inventory and rate of loss.”

According to Farmers Insurance, in 2009 Eau Claire ranked ninth on the top 100 safest cities in the United States with fewer than 150,000 residents. Two years later, Farmers Insurance ranked Eau Claire 15th in the same category.

“So that didn’t help us in terms of those statistics,” Hedge said.

In Eau Claire 1,531 thefts were reported in 2011, and 2014 has a projected 1,033 thefts, according to the FBI Report of Offenses Known to Law Enforcement.

Last week, 125 crimes were reported in Eau Claire.

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