Nassau to spend up to $3.2M for mobile panic alarms

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Nassau police will spend up to $3.2 million over three years to provide GPS and voice-enabled mobile panic alarms to schools, public officials and other "high-risk individuals."

The county legislature's Rules Committee this week approved a contract with World Wide Security Group of Garden City for as many as 4,000 wireless push-button devices that, with a two-way microphone, can connect users quickly with the police 911 center and provide their location.

"This is a high priority for the county executive, and a high priority for the department," said acting police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, noting that he hopes about 80 percent of the contract's costs will be covered by state and federal grants. "As far as I know, this is really the first program of its kind in the country."

County Executive Edward Mangano announced last fall that police would offer five of the cellular panic alarms to every county school without charge. Mangano said he was motivated by the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 26 people and an attack last fall at a Nevada middle school that killed a teacher.

If the contract is approved by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, schools could begin receiving the alarms shortly, Krumpter said. Although most devices will go to schools, about 350 will be used to replace police's existing "caper alarm" program, in which domestic violence victims and some officials have access to silent panic alarms that now only work in a fixed location, and require labor-intensive monitoring.

The new technology will work beyond a single site, Krumpter said, and will allow the four police officers who work full-time operating the program to be reassigned.

"This requires very little human intervention to work, but the big improvement is that wherever you go, you can have this on a little chain around your neck, and it's an extra security blanket," Krumpter said.

Ken Mara, World Wide Security president, said his "Life Button 24" devices -- which cost $127 each, with monthly cellular charges of $13.75 -- can save precious seconds needed to unlock and dial a mobile phone.

"The goal should be to get the police there as soon as possible," Mara said Thursday.

Jim Bueermann, president of The Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit that studies the use of technology in policing, said the system was "innovative for local government." But he cautioned its success depends on proper training and ensuring that the panic alarms work well enough to become an alternative to the smartphones people now instinctively turn to first.

"People are generally going to remember their phone every day when they leave for work. But will they remember this?" Bueermann said. "In the right situation it can be incredibly valuable, but it's not magic."

Suffolk County police last year unveiled a dedicated telephone hotline to give schools instant access to its 911 call center. The department offered the fixed-location system to schools at a cost to the district of about $160 plus installation.

About 131 hotline devices in 22 districts are now registered with Suffolk police.

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