Palo Alto police use range of technologies to catch suspected criminals


On Dec. 30, Palo Alto police conducted a manhunt in north Palo Alto for a burglar who fell asleep in the home he had broken into. Officers used dogs, heat-sensing equipment, and various other technologies in an effort to flush out the man.

Such a thorough police response is typical for Palo Alto, Ken Dueker Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services director, said. Palo Alto police have several tools at their disposal that other departments lack, including a mobile emergency-operations center and thermal-imaging cameras. What is used depends largely on what police are searching for, he said.

"Most searches are not the end of the world. The most effective tool is the K-9. Most agencies have K-9 units. They are not machines. You have a fair bit of judgment in the dog," making them effective tools for ruling out extraneous information, he said.

Thermal-imaging cameras see heat, whether it is from a body or a handgun hidden in bushes, he said.

"A handgun has a slightly different temperature than the surrounding grass or ground, even if it has been sitting in somebody's pocket," he said.

Night goggles, such as the type used in the Dec. 30 incident, are mostly used to look for people with dementia or mental illness who have wandered off and could be victims of hypothermia at night, he said.

"People like that are often disoriented and scared. They hide behind shrubbery," he said.

Palo Alto also has a bus-sized Mobile Emergency Operations Center -- one of only five in the Bay Area -- a support vehicle and a director's command vehicle, which is equipped with gear to serve as an incident command post and that has extensive communications capabilities for organizing with other agencies, he said.

The vehicles were not used in the Dec. 30 incident, but the director's command vehicle was used two weeks ago after a caller reported they had opened an envelope containing a suspicious white powder, he said.

Police also called in the vehicle during a manhunt for a felon who ran from officers after an attempted fraud in a nearby Bank of America, he said. The vehicle helped police organize their search with other agencies and instantaneously print off photographs of the suspect on site, Dueker said. The person was eventually captured.

The center, which serves as a back-up emergency operations center, command post and 911 center, earned its keep in 2014, Dueker said. On average, the department has used it every other week -- more than 30 times, he said. It is largely used to control planned events, but it will also be a primary communications and staging point during a a disaster, he said.

"Prior to getting it, it was the Chief and myself on the hood of a police car" directing operations, he said.

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