Technology for First Responders
Dear Resident,One of the most basic expectations of city government is public safety, both in police and fire protection. Hattiesburg residents and businesses have the benefit of an effective, well-trained police department and a quality, responsive fire department. These departments – and the results they produce – speak for themselves. Violent crime was down for a second straight year in 2023. Unofficial numbers at year’s end indicate that aggravated assaults were cut around over half from the previous year, which in turn as a 20% drop over the year before that. Our fire department holds a Class 3 rating and last year answered thousands of calls, saving both life and property. At the same time, we have to continue to look for ways to give our men and women in both departments the tools they need to keep both themselves and the public as safe as possible. Law enforcement, in particular, continues to evolve in ways that use more technology and focuses more on community-based policing. This is a necessary transformation, particularly as departments across the country struggle to recruit enough personnel to meet staffing needs. Technology in many cases can bridge the gap, but this must be done in collaboration with – and with the support and trust of – the community. We must, as a city, continue to learn about and embrace technologies that will keep officers safe and help them do their job to keep the public safe. However, we must be transparent about the use of potential new methods and allow the public to ask questions and provide input. While we all want our community to be safe, we also need to balance that aim with safeguarding privacy, empowering people to engage in lawful behavior, working to avoid bias, maintaining trust and being upfront with our intentions and goals. As we enter a new year and work to further reduce crime and make neighborhoods even safer, I believe the time is right to have a robust conversation about available innovations for first responders. These include drone technology for police and fire departments, as well as camera-assisted enforcement of state-required motorist liability insurance and speed limits in school zones during active school zone time periods. The principal goal is making sure that we are doing all we can to keep our personnel, residents, businesses and visitors as safe as possible – while also safeguarding transparency and privacy. We hope you will join in this conversation, ask questions and give feedback. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I am committed to finding and providing the public with as much information as possible so that our administration and the City Council can make informed policy decisions. Citizen engagement works toward safer communities, and that is my hope as we move forward on evaluating these new technologies.
All the best,
Toby Barker – Mayor
City of Hattiesburg
TOWN HALL DATES
The City of Hattiesburg is evaluating the potential use of three technology initiatives for the city’s first responders: drone-supported assistance for both fire and police, as well as camera-assisted support for the police department regarding ticketing school zone violations and uninsured drivers. The first phase of the proposal will include a public engagement component to hear feedback from residents throughout the City of Hattiesburg.
Throughout the first few months of 2024, Mayor Toby Barker will host town halls in each of the five wards. He will be joined by the administrative teams of both the Hattiesburg Police and Fire Departments to discuss these three initiatives with opportunities to hear from residents regarding questions and general feedback.
Part of the public engagement process will include town hall meetings, one in each of the city’s five wards. The schedule for those town hall meetings are:
- Ward 1: Monday, January 22 – 7:00 p.m. – New Covenant Baptist Church (3202 W 7th St)
- Ward 2: Tuesday, January 23 – 7:00 p.m. – C.E. Roy Community Center (300 E 5th St)
- Ward 3: Thursday, February 1 – 7:00 p.m. – University Baptist Church (3200 W Arlington Loop)
- Ward 4: Thursday, February 22 – 7:00 p.m. – Sigler Center (315 Conti St)
- Ward 5: Tuesday, February 27 – 7:00 p.m. – Lillie Burney Learning Center (901 Ida Ave)
#1. DRONE USE DURING INCIDENTS – FIRE & POLICE
For fire departments, it will allow firefighters to cut through heat and smoke to gain accurate information with a lower risk of harm and accidents for personnel. The technology provides critical situational awareness no matter the conditions, without firefighters having to make entry first.
For police departments, drone technology can provide an immediate assessment of what is taking place during an incident – both inside and outside – with an outfit of cameras, flood lights and mapping sensors. Two-way audio also allows for communication and assessment with suspects beforehand. This can also be used for gathering intelligence at large events for crowd control and used in response to other calls for service.
The city is in dialogue with Brinc, a U.S. company developing technology to deescalate dangerous situations in public safety. Founded in response to the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting. Here are links to information detailing the company and potential drone models available for use in public safety applications. Any purchase must follow Mississippi procurement laws.
#2. CAMERAS & UNINSURED DRIVERS
The city is in dialogue with Securix, an Atlanta-based, third-party vendor that has worked with other Mississippi municipalities to provide enforcement of state-required motorist liability insurance via camera technology. Any potential contract must be done in accordance with Mississippi law.
In a 2021 study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC), Mississippi held the highest percentage of uninsured motorists in 2019 with 29.4 percent of drivers without insurance. This is compared to a national average of 12.6 percent. (https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-uninsured-motorists)
Other municipalities, like Ocean Springs and Pearl, use cameras for enforcement of liability insurance coverage. In five months, Ocean Springs saw a 36% decline in uninsured motorists.
#3. CAMERAS & SCHOOL ZONES
The city is in dialogue with IntelliSafe, a Mississippi-based company with technology that works to improve public safety in school zone. The process utilizes both a police officer with traditional radar devices combined with a license plate reader camera. Any potential contract must be done in accordance with Mississippi law.
Violators exceeding 10 mph over the speed limit in a school zone (during active school zone time periods) are sent a ticket in the mail. Violators are given the option of participating in a municipal court diversion program where they pay a reduced fine. They can also challenge the citation in court.
While the Mississippi Legislature passed HB 1568 in 2009 that disallows cameras for citing drivers for speed violations, there is no prohibition on cameras being used to assist officers who are presently on scene.