Photo by Heather Middleton
By Kathy Jefcoats
Officer Stephen McLean cruised the streets of Riverdale Thursday morning in his souped-up, gray Dodge Charger. As an SUV passed him along Upper Riverdale Road, his mounted laptop sounded an alarm. Checking the screen, McLean learned in an instant that the tag had been suspended, and he initiated a traffic stop.
He talked to the driver, who said she was unaware her tag was suspended, likely for a lapse in insurance coverage, or that her brake lights were out. The driver also needed to update her address on her driver's license, he told her.
McLean took her license back to his patrol car, typed her information into the laptop and waited. Within seconds, a printer between the split, front seats spit out her citation. Minutes later, the traffic stop was over, and McLean was once again patrolling the streets.
"I call it the Riverdale Technology Vehicle, a one-stop shop," said McLean, a four-year veteran of the Riverdale Police Department.
The name may not rival "KITT," the artificially-intelligent car featured in the popular 80s TV series, "Knight Rider," but the Charger's high-tech abilities sure do. Members of the department's CRUSH unit have several gadgets at their disposal, all designed to make their jobs easier.
Information on thousands of car tags is stored in the system, and is valuable outside the issuance of citations. For example, McLean said a victim or witness in a hit-and-run may only have a partial tag number of the offender's car. He can take that partial and run it through his system and come up with all cars with those similar digits or letters.
"It will then bring up photos of all the cars with similar tags," he said. "We can show the victim or witness the photos, so they can pick out the car. We can also pinpoint on a map the last time that car was seen in the area, and go to the owner."
Six tag cameras are mounted, in three units, on the trunk of the CRUSH cars. McLean, 38, is one of four officers in the unit led by Sgt. Charles Jones. Jones said the Crime Reduction Utilizing Statistical History, or CRUSH, unit relates to quality of life. "We are happy to do anything that will improve the quality of life in Riverdale," said Jones. "We make sure all the businesses have licenses, keep people from milling about in apartment complexes, and increase traffic enforcement in areas with lots of accidents. We do a lot, depending on the issues that are impacting the city."
Another tool at the unit's disposal is a rapid identification reader. Operated by Officer Veasna Sreng, the reader can tell police what some people just refuse to.
"Not everyone is truthful to the police," said McLean. "The rapid ID unit can give us a person's real name, and other information by their fingerprint."
Sreng was called to use the reader Thursday morning by Riverdale police detectives questioning a witness in a rape case. The man gave the detectives a false name before producing his license from his pants pocket. When Sreng arrived, she scanned his print in the reader, proving the license was correct. He was cuffed and arrested for giving false information.
"A lot of people think of CRUSH as being an aggressive unit, but it's passive," said Officer Kirby Threat. "We're enforcing traffic laws and getting drugs off the streets, crime is reduced. This is one of the best units I've worked with. When you see one officer, you see two, we have more eyes and ears out there, and we're making good cases."
That same morning, officers stopped a pick-up truck loaded with used air conditioning units and copper -- suspicious because of the increase in thefts of such items. "When the driver saw police behind him, he made an abrupt illegal turn," said Jones.
We've had a lot of thefts of air conditioning units and copper, so we have questions about these items. Turns out, both the driver and passenger had open containers, and alcohol on their breaths. We're trying to be vigilant here. The driver said he's from Decatur, well, what's he doing all the way down here? We're trying to figure it all out."
Driver Eddie Earl Williams, 53, of Atlanta, failed a field sobriety test and was unsuccessful in getting a good breath of air through a portable alco-sensor, so he was arrested.
"This situation here, I don't know what's going on, I'm trying to figure it all out," said Williams as he was handcuffed. "Nothing is stolen, I got papers for everything I have in that truck. It's just a hassle."
Williams told his passenger, who was not allowed to drive the truck because he, too, had been drinking, "Call my brother," as police prepared to impound the vehicle and check the parts for serial numbers, to compare to reported stolen items.
Just another day for the CRUSH unit.