The “explosive breaching device” hasn’t been used yet, said Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn, but city police officers will be ready if the need ever arrives.
A SWAT team could use the ploy if an active shooter was barricaded inside a school or during a hostage-rescue operation, Flynn said, when “time is of the essence.”
It could also be used to serve a warrant, according to the new standard operating procedures approved by the Marietta City Council.
Flynn said the more likely use would be if the Joint Terrorism Task Force, operated by the federal government, alerted the department to the possibility of a terrorist in Marietta armed with a bomb, Flynn said.
The policy says it’s a “method for the safe and non-violent resolution of a high-risk situation, such as hostage rescues, barricaded suspects and when serving warrants.”
But it’s not for “your run of the mill apartment or home or even most businesses,” Flynn said.
Stronger than a battering ram used to break down doors, the paramilitary device can be placed around the frame of a door and detonated to take the door down. It can also be used on windows and walls.
Flynn likened it to a “heavy-duty tape” and said the explosion is contained.
“It’s amazing how pinpoint it is,” Flynn said.
The device and the training it requires cost the department about $10,000 and was paid for with funds seized by police through the civil asset forfeiture laws.
Flynn said the maneuver is needed in cases that “rarely if ever happen,” but having it available keeps the department prepared.
“We are going to be ready if anything bad happens in Marietta,” Flynn said.
The policy has been adopted by the department and ratified by the City Council on Feb. 14.
License-plate info stored indefinitely
Another policy adopted by police and approved by the city involves an existing strategy used by some local departments nationwide that has caught the ire of privacy advocates.
Marietta officers use automated license-plate readers, which they call LPRs, to take photos of cars on city roads. License-plate numbers are logged along with the date, time and exact location of the vehicle.
Flynn said the information is uploaded to a database by the department’s vendor, California-based Vigilant Solutions, and a search is done to determine if any jurisdictions have issued a “be on the lookout” notice for the vehicle, if the car’s tag is expired or if the automobile has been reported stolen.
“It does literally dozens of cars in rapid fire,” Flynn said.
Two Marietta cruisers are equipped with the cameras, which cost $14,000 each. The cameras were also bought with money seized through civil asset forfeiture laws. Acworth Police Department also uses LPRs.
Flynn said the policy update deals with procedural aspects of the program.
Tracking criminals and citizens
It’s not the cameras themselves that privacy advocates find fault with. It’s how the data collected is kept and for how long.
Some local departments, including Marietta, store the data indefinitely after it is gathered on both vehicles sought by police and those driven by law-abiding citizens.
An American Civil Liberties Union study released in July containing information from 600 police departments across the country found there are “virtually no rules in place to prevent a system that can eventually track everybody all the time.”
“More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives,” the watchdog group’s study said. “The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association.”
The scanners, which can be affixed to police cars or hung from bridges, overpasses or on light posts, are capable of tracking thousands of passing vehicle tags per minute.
Privacy advocates point out that less than 1 percent of the plate scans result in a “hit.”
A hit means the information matched a listing in a database of vehicles police are interested in, for whatever reason.
Flynn disagrees the program violates rights.
“I would ask the simple question, ‘Do you have a right to privacy in a public place?’ The courts have answered that and said no,” he said.
Police have a duty to protect and enforce the law on public streets, he said, and LPRs help them do just that. Officers aren’t taking photos of cars parked in private garages, Flynn said, but those who use city roads.
He said the community “has nothing to fear.”
“The only data that you are recording is the same data that’s already contained in other state computer systems and other databases,” Flynn said.
Minor changes to other policies upcoming
A second round of police procedures will go before City Council at 7 p.m. Wednesday concerning other policies, including police roadblocks.
One policy now says the purpose of a traffic checkpoint must be specific and that it should not be conducted just for general crime control. Roadblocks should cause minimal delay to motorists and officers should be trained in assessing both impaired driving and equipment safety violations, according to the standard operating procedures.