Originally POSTED Mon, 08/13/2012 – 2:05am | POSTED BY Jeff Koehn

If you have been driving the streets of Cape Coral recently, you may have noticed the new line of Cape Coral Police cars.

The city recently purchased 40 new 2012 Dodge Chargers to replace what many say is an outdated fleet, “Most of the old cars had over 130,000 miles on them, hard miles. The warranties were long gone,” says Cape Coral Police Lieutenant Anthony Sizemore.

During a typical day, officers travel 80 to 100 miles during their patrol shift in south and central Cape Coral. Officers, who patrol the north area of the city, will travel near 200 miles per day on average. Because of such extensive travel, fuel efficiency was important when purchasing the new cars, “These cars all have V6 engines, but because of the technology they have equivalent power as a V8. Because of that they have all the same performance, but save in fuel costs,” says Sizemore.

The new cars also come equipped with a new camera system. The new system is entirely digital replacing the analog system the department used previously. Before the digital system, officers would have to download a shift’s worth of film at the end of each shift. With the new digital system, the footage automatically streams to a central system and stored, “The old system was like shoving concrete through a straw. It was very time consuming for the officers. The new system makes it a much simpler process that saves the department a considerable amount of time,” says Cape Coral Detective Sergeant Dana Costen.

Another time saving feature in the new vehicles is a one piece plastic back seat. Officers no longer have to comb through the back of their car after each arrest insuring that an arrestee did not leave behind any contraband. Officers can now easily hose out the back of the car and return to patrol within a matter of minutes.

The new vehicles also come with a new LED light system attached to the roof of the car. The lights last longer and shine much brighter than conventional light bulbs, which reduces safety risks officers face during a routine traffic stop, “This has always been a huge officer safety issue. These new lights significantly reduce the risk of an officer being hit by a car, because a driver did not see them,” says Costen.

Along with the new cars, the department recently received a $21,895 grant from the Department of Justice. The police department is using the grant to purchase its first laser license plate reader.

The license plate reader allows the department to scan every license plate within the vicinity of the patrol car. The devices checks for stolen cars, improper tags, warrants, etc., “This device does the work of several officers,” says Sizemore. “Instead of slowing down and getting tag information, this device will pick them up as an officer drives at normal speed and do all the research.”

Sizemore says the device can also be used as a tool for other types of investigations, “If you have a homicide in a certain area this device can log every vehicle around that area. We can then use that information to track people down and see if they witnessed anything pertaining to the crime.”

While there are some concerns such a device can infringe on people’s privacy rights, the department says that is not the intent of such a device, “It is like a gun registration. We don’t care unless there was a crime committed. At that point, it is a useful tool in solving that crime,” says Sizemore.

For now the department intends to use only the one device. It will be installed in of the department’s traffic unit vehicles.

While the department is proud of the new cars and new technology tools it has recently received, one piece they have been most proud of, is the success of their social media initiative.

Created in January 2011, the department began utilizing the internet as a tool for communicating with the public.

Part of the initiative was to set up Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels. The department’s goal was to create an open channel of communication with residents and business owners of Cape Coral, “This is a new way to do an old fashioned thing, getting the community involved,” says Costen.

Since its inception, the department’s Facebook page has over 1,300 fans. Their Twitter page has over 1,200 followers, and videos they put up on YouTube is typically viewed by hundreds of people, “Since we started we have been bringing in people and keeping them. It has become a great tool in solving crimes,” says Costen.

In their effort to keep people coming back to the websites, the department posts new items constantly. Costen, equipped with his video camera, and attends every press conference and critical situations to keep the public up to date. All of the work is done in-house and typically a press conference can be seen on the department’s website within minutes of happening. It also allows the department to present the entire press conference without having to worry about constraints of time that a typical television station faces.

Amazingly this is all done under the two man operation of Costen and Sizemore, “We do not rely on a staff. We are our own reporters, photographers and videographers,” says Costen.

However, Costen says the third partner in the operation is the duos smart phones, “We do a great deal from our phones. That makes things much simpler. That also makes us available more hours of the day. If we need to post something quickly, we have it set up to where we can do it from our phones.”

The use of social media has become so popular; Costen says he now has detectives coming to him with requests to post information on the website, “This is the new age bulletin board. You use to post up a Polaroid picture of a TV screen and hoped people would see it. Now we have digital photos and can send them out via email. It gets in front of many more eyes and gives us a better chance to solve crimes. It involves a much broader range of the community.”

While the success of the social media initiative has been well received within the community and department, others have also taken notice, “We recently had the International Association Chiefs of Police do a case study on what we are doing here. That was a real honor,” says Sizemore.

Another feather in the cap of the department is the fact that all of the social media presence is being accomplished at a minimal cost to taxpayers. Costen says the department only spent a few thousand dollars in equipment to start the program and spends only a few dollars a month to maintain all of the websites, ”We are able to have a fully functioning PA office with all of the community involvement and it costs about the same as a large frappuccino each day.”

While cost savings is crucial, Costen is also quick to point out the most important aspect the success of the program has brought, “This program has gotten the community involved. The more involvement from the community, the better chance of success. If you find one missing or endangered person, that is priceless.”