HATTIESBURG, Miss., – During the January 2, 2024, meeting of the Hattiesburg City Council, Mayor Toby Barker gave a presentation to the council to introduce three technology initiatives for the city’s first responders: drone-supported assistance for both fire and police, as well as camera-assisted support for the police department regarding ticketing school zone violations and uninsured drivers.
The first phase of the proposal will include a public engagement component to hear feedback from residents throughout the City of Hattiesburg.
“I believe Hattiesburg has the most well-trained police officers and firefighters among municipalities in Mississippi,” said Mayor Toby Barker. “Furthermore, as expectations of law enforcement change, we must evolve our use of technology and ensure that we are giving first responders all the necessary tools to keep both the public and our personnel safe. However, we must be proactive in engaging our citizens about these potential technologies, and we must exercise full transparency about their use.”
Town Hall meetings have been established for the following wards and dates to discuss these initiatives:
- Ward 1: Monday, January 22 – 7:00 p.m. – New Covenant Baptist Church (3202 W 7th St)
- Ward 2: Tuesday, January 23 – 7:00 p.m. – C.E. Roy Community Center (300 E 5th St)
- Ward 3: Thursday, February 1 – 7:00 p.m. – University Baptist Church (3200 W Arlington Loop)
- Ward 4: Thursday, February 22 – 7:00 p.m. – Sigler Center (315 Conti St)
- Ward 5: Tuesday, February 27 – 7:00 p.m. – Lillie Burney Learning Center (901 Ida Ave)
All three initiatives are summarized to aid and support both the Hattiesburg Police and Fire Departments by expanding manpower through the use of cutting-edge technology like drones and cameras.
While drone technology isn’t new, the use of them for public safety encounters is a growing trend across the country to help departments assess incidents on scene with a lower level of risk.
For fire departments, it will allow firefighters to cut through heat and smoke to gain accurate information with a lower risk of harm and accidents for personnel. The technology provides critical situational awareness no matter the conditions, without firefighters having to make entry first.
“The use of drone technology can allow our firefighters to gain more situational awareness at the scene of a disaster,” said HFD Chief Sherrocko Stewart. “We can learn of specific hazards in an area without putting our responders in harm’s way and more effectively implement an evacuation plan.”
For police departments, drone technology can provide an immediate assessment of what is taking place during an incident – both inside and outside – with an outfit of cameras, flood lights and mapping sensors. Two-way audio also allows for communication and assessment with suspects beforehand.
“Across the nation, departments are relying on technology to assist in crime-fighting efforts,” said HPD Assistant Chief Hardy Sims. “Likewise, our city should look at new ways to enhance the way we combat crime in our city. With the help and support of community stakeholders, we can use new innovative technologies to multiply our resources in many ways. We must employ a holistic approach to fighting crime. It is no longer feasible to have enforcement tactics only.”
The second and third initiatives include using camera technologies in high-traffic areas to issue citations to uninsured drivers and assist officers in enforcing school-zone speed violations. These technologies are usually employed with the assistance of third-party vendors.
In a 2021 study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC), Mississippi held the highest percentage of uninsured motorists in 2019 with 29.4 percent of drivers without insurance. This is compared to a national average of 12.6 percent. (https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-uninsured-motorists)
Other municipalities, like Ocean Springs and Pearl, use cameras for enforcement of liability insurance coverage.
The city is also exploring the use of camera assistance to enforce speed limits in school zones during active school zone time periods. While the Mississippi Legislature passed HB 1568 in 2009 that disallows cameras for citing drivers for speed violations, there is no prohibition on cameras being used to support officers who are presently on scene.
Both of these technologies are on the table for use by the Hattiesburg Police Department’s traffic enforcement division but will be presented for public feedback.
Town halls have been scheduled for each ward through January and February, but residents can also provide feedback via the survey located on the City of Hattiesburg’s website: hattiesburgms.com/techforfirstresponders.
Costs and timelines of implementation will vary across all three initiatives but will be included in future updates if the proposal moves before council.
Barker concluded, “We believe these three items could be game changers for our departments in helping them do their jobs of serving and protecting our community more efficiently. However, like any new initiative throughout the city, we want to provide our residents the opportunity to hear more, be able to ask questions and address any concerns that they may have. We believe this empowers understanding and buy-in, both which are necessary anytime you launch a new program.”
For residents interested in learning more, they can visit hattiesburgms.com/techforfirstresponders.
Read original article by clicking here.