December 20, 2014

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Amherst police showcase thermal imaging technology

AMHERST — Almost two weeks ago, when police answered a call about a suicidal woman wandering the streets of the city at night with a gun, they knew they needed to act quickly.

“Just those few minutes to prepare and be tactical … could mean life or death on either our side or her side,” said Officer Jay Nahm, who was on duty that night.

With the department’s new thermal imaging camera — called Nighttime Optical Thermal Imaging Camera or NOPTIC — that was donated by the Amherst Eagles only two weeks prior to the incident, officers were able to find and disarm the woman quickly.

“It was a huge advantage that we had that technology,” said Nahm, adding that without it the situation could have become dire. The technology, often used by the military and larger police departments, allows police a certain amount of speed in their apprehension of suspects that might be lost in a longer investigation.

Police displayed NOPTIC on Tuesday in a press conference, explaining how the camera mounted to the outside of a new four-wheel-drive police car catches thermal images that can be viewed on a small screen inside the car. At the same press conference, police awarded a plaque to the Amherst Eagles for the donation and discussed how NOPTIC will benefit the department.

“Technically, (NOPTIC) tells heat differences within 2 or 3 degrees,” Police Chief Joseph Kucirek said.

This means police are able to locate a recently fired gun, a recently used car or recently used shell casings. In some cases, thermal imaging is even able to detect the path of a person or car because the temperature of a body or vehicle changes the ground temperature below it.

However, Kucirek said that the most crucial use of thermal imaging is to apprehend suspects, either during or immediately after a crime.

“Amherst is no stranger to residential burglaries at night, break-ins at night … (we are) able to scan the parking lots for (criminals) and see if there are any hotspots,” he said.

Due to its expensive nature — the technology costs $5,000 alone — many smaller police departments are unable to afford thermal imaging technology. Amherst is the first department to use NOPTIC in Ohio but police said it won’t be the last.

The Amherst Police Department plans to assist all Lorain County police agencies with apprehending high-level felony suspects, including those involving homicide and kidnapping.

“Anything where the advantage of finding somebody quickly will help the safety of either them or the surrounding community,” Kucirek said.

In addition to the camera on the car, the car spotlight was upgraded to an 1800-lumen LED and the handheld flashlight was upgraded to a 504-lumen LED.

In the next few years, Amherst police plan to outfit two more vehicles with thermal-imaging technology.

“Only good things are going to come from this,” Kucirek said.

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman@chroniclet.com.