The city of Lowell, Mass., was plagued with armed robberies at local convenience stores. The dangerous and unpredictable offenders frequently used guns, but also used knives or cutting instruments to threaten store employees into complying. Citizens were scared and store staff was on edge. Crime was affecting sales, and both business owners and police were frustrated. The Lowell Police Department conducted stakeouts to address the ongoing criminal activity but, unfortunately, the robberies continued. They were so brazen, in fact, that one incident occurred while the police surveillance van was parked just outside. The usual methods of investigation weren’t working and police decided to try something innovative.
Chief Superintendent Taylor, known as a forward thinker, investigated using GPS tracking and electronic stakeouts. 3SI Security’s law enforcement division conducted a well-received presentation to Lowell PD (LPD) command staff. The nationwide success of Electronic Stake Out® (ESO®) with GPS trackers to address serious crime is well documented with hundreds of PDs making felony arrests.
Officer Craig Withycombe was listening carefully to the presentation on ESO and followed up directly with 3SI and his Chief to spearhead an ESO program. CS Taylor gave the go ahead and the Lowell PD obtained ESO Cash Trackers to deploy in the cash drawer at Tedeschi’s Market, a local convenience store.
Officer Withycombe linked the 911 Center to the tracker and waited. On a Thursday evening in March 2017 at around 8 pm, the tracker alerted to the LPD Communication Center. Text alerts were also sent about the robbery in progress to multiple officers, allowing them to view the event in the palm of their hands. Unbeknownst to the offender, officers and the Communication Center knew precisely where the robber was fleeing. Comm. kept patrol officers updated with critical information on the location speed and direction of travel. The suspect was easily captured by police. He was a repeat offender and caught with the goods in hand as he fled from a violent felony.
Capturing a criminal in real time is a rare event and thrilling for the officers on patrol. The Electronic Stake Out Devices, developed by 3SI, are a proven solution in addressing the rise in complex crime and the rapid changes in the nature of crime.
This case illustrates a real time modern, practical and legal use of GPS, smart phones, and smart cops. Police officers took advantage of newly engineered tools that are truly force multipliers and vessels of change to enhance public safety.
This scenario was played out five times recently in the city of Lowell and resulted in five criminals arrested for armed robbery within a short period of time. Numerous other cases were cleared and several repeat offenders were placed back into the criminal justice system. These successes have had a direct impact on the safety of the surrounding neighborhood, citizens, and staff at local markets as well as the police.
I became actively involved in one case and observed the live track along with Officer Withycombe who directed officers to the suspect’s location. Officers had enough probable cause for the stop of the individual and to start the investigation but hadn’t yet located the ESO Device. Craig had the ingenious idea of having all officers turn their radios off, then he chirped the device. When the Device sounded in the suspect’s sock, police were able to make yet another solid felony arrest and recover the stolen money. Even with some technical difficulty in the Communications Center during this case, LPD was able to bring this case once again to a successful conclusion.
As a former police officer, it felt great to be actively involved and observe a track that led to the arrest of a dangerous felon. By working cooperatively under challenging circumstances, this PD has had many successful outcomes in the fight against serious crime. Kudos to Superintendent Taylor for thinking outside the box, to Officer Withycombe for spearheading the local program, and the patrol officers and the Comm Center for their support.