COUNTY LINES

App lets police choppers zero in quickly on crime scenes in Ohio county

Bird's-eye view. Helicopter-borne officers from the Franklin County Police Department in Ohio now can get to the scene of a crime in progress in about two minutes because of an inexpensive software package and some data sharing with the county auditor's office.

Franklin County police have six helicopters, but it wasn't until they had the technology to pinpoint exactly where a crime was occurring that the air fleet could beat squad cars to crime scenes.

Before, those in the choppers knew a crime scene was on a particular block, but it was often difficult to find an incident from the air.

Now with customized Metavue software from Metamap Inc. of Lexington, Ky., choppers can pinpoint a crime site within 30 seconds. The software also has a follow mode, which displays where the helicopter is as it flies.

Swooping in. Once a helicopter reaches the area, the software zooms in to provide a more detailed view. For example, if a house where a crime is occurring is an L-shaped ranch, it appears on the screen as an L-shaped image, first shift supervisor Sgt. Gary Mathias said.

The software runs on a 333-MHz Brick Computer from Litton Industries Inc. of Woodland, Calif. It has 128M of RAM and a 12G hard drive. The monitor is a Litton Mobile-Vu Monitor, which has a bright screen to allow viewing in the vivid daylight of a helicopter cockpit.

The CPU is mounted in the rear of the cabin and the monitor is mounted where pilots can see it as they fly. The CPU is connected to the helicopter's Global Positioning System receiver, which gives the CPU information about the chopper's location.

The police department saved money by tapping into the geographical database owned by the county auditor's office.

Cheaper by piggyback. 'Ninety-five percent of the cost of a geographic information system is in building the base map,' said Franklin County auditor Joe Testa.

By piggybacking on the data generated and maintained by the auditor's office, the police get a GIS for a few thousand dollars, Testa said.

The auditor's database, which that office began building in 1986, cost about $20 million, he said.

'In addition, we go on anything that we think we can be helpful. Traffic accidents, fights, missing children are big with us,' Mathias said. The helicopters are available 16 hours a day, from noon to 4 a.m.

'Merry Mayer

E-mail: merrymayer@aol.com

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