Nassau and Suffolk police officers sitting at their desks or in patrol cars now have the ability to view live video of fleeing suspects and crime scenes captured by police helicopters high in the sky.
The newly launched technology will vastly improve police ability to respond to emergencies by giving officers on the ground a bird's-eye view of everything from a sinking vessel to a bank robber on the run, officials said.
Police departments on Long Island and throughout the country have long used helicopters as a law enforcement tool. But this new technology -- including cameras with high-resolution zoom and the ability to live-stream the footage to phones and other electronic devices using new microwave downlink technology -- will "greatly improve officer response time and officer safety as a result of increased coordination of ground-based units, enhanced detection of threats and increased operational picture awareness," said acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.
Nassau is among the first in the region to begin using the automatic streaming component, officials said. Supervisors watching the video in real time can then direct officers and other resources to more effectively respond, officials said.
Both departments recently began rolling out the technology -- Suffolk is still testing, while Nassau has a limited number of supervisors with access -- and are working to determine to whom in the department it will be distributed, officials said.
In Nassau, some patrol supervisors can watch unfolding situations on their smartphones, iPads or on flat screens in their patrol cars, officials said. The video feeds are also accessible at Nassau's 911 center and in its Emergency Services Unit and hostage negotiation command vehicles, officials said.
Nassau Lt. Kenneth Strigaro, who is overseeing the rollout, said the department's primary objective in using the technology is to protect the 450-square-mile area that encompasses the Port of New York and New Jersey. Strigaro said the department is called on regularly to assist other port-based agencies, such as the Coast Guard.
But the departments can also use the technology in other investigations, during large-scale public events, or for car accidents and traffic jams, officials said. Strigaro said the system has the capability to share live video with other law enforcement agencies, including Suffolk police and the NYPD.
"If we have a situation where we need mutual aid from NYPD or whatever, our system is not only able to view our cameras, but we can view their cameras as well and we can feed both of those feeds out simultaneously," Strigaro said.
The technology was acquired by both county departments and the NYPD through the Coast Guard's port security grant program, a federal program with the purpose of enhancing security for the Port of New York and New Jersey, officials said.
The technology, which includes cameras with high-powered zoom ability and software, was manufactured by California-based Helinet Technologies.
Suffolk police received about $560,000 in the grant money to equip two of its four helicopters with the technology. Nassau police said the funding for the technology came from a $4 million grant.
Suffolk Capt. John Blosser, executive officer of the Special Patrol Bureau, which includes the Aviation Section, said the department is still working to determine which officers will have access to the feeds.
But he said he foresees the system being used in many situations, including in the event of large-scale brush fires, which in the past have struck the county's pine barrens region.
In the past, fire officials were brought up in the department's helicopters to assess the situation from the air. But with the new technology, Blosser said, the information could be viewed live by officials at a central location.
"It has tremendous potential," Blosser said. "We've been using helicopters for decades. The difference now is, the sergeant sitting in the car can be watching it. They can see it themselves."
In Nassau, Helinet equipped the department's Bell 407 helicopter and its two new light twin helicopters with the cameras, officials said.
On Oct. 11, Nassau used the technology to arrest a suspected thief, Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said.
A pair of Third Precinct plainclothes officers were investigating a rash of car break-ins in the Carle Place and Westbury areas about 9:30 p.m. While trying to question a suspect, the man took off running. The officers chased him, ending up on Roosevelt Court in Carle Place.
Strigaro screened video from one of the helicopter's cameras of the pursuit, which showed the suspect trying to flee officers by jumping a fence.
As officers searched the area holding flashlights, a supervisor live-streaming the video directed the officers to the suspect, who was ultimately arrested, police said.
"Everybody's on the same sheet of music," Strigaro said. "The decision-makers can make real-time decisions based on what they see, what they hear."