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NYPD Considers Futuristic Weapons Recognition Technology

June 6, 2009

In the wake of last week’s friendly fire tragedy that left one police officer dead, the New York Police Department is looking into futuristic technology that would give their officers’ weapons the ability to recognize one another with the aim of avoiding a repeat of such fatal mishaps.

Officer Omar J. Edwards, age 25, was killed on May 28 while pursuing a man who had broken into his car. Edwards had just come off his shift and was not in uniform. Three plainclothes detectives came upon Edwards as he was chasing the criminal with his gun drawn. Not recognizing him as a fellow service member, Officer Andrew Dunton commanded him to stop.  When Edwards turned around, revealing the weapon in his hand, the plainclothes officers fired.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has requested that his advisors put together a list of department initiatives that could help prevent the recurrence of such incidences between fellow officers.

Paul Browne, deputy commissioner for public information at the NYPD, said in a statement on Friday that the department is currently in talks with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory regarding the possibility of modifying certain technologies for use by the department.

One particularly interesting idea would involve employing radio frequency tags that would allow police officers to pinpoint the exact location of fellow cops on the beat, explained Browne. Another technology could potentially put recognition tags on the guns themselves, using a system of infrared sensors. When an officer draws his weapon it would send a signal to the gun of any officers in the vicinity, allowing them to recognize the drawn weapon of a fellow officer.

The research is still in its earliest test phases, and a spokesman for the federal lab told reporters that many of the proposed ideas, such as the use of radio frequency tags, may likely prove ineffective or impossible to develop.

“We are scheduled to talk with the department next week,” said Geoff Harvey, spokes for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “Up for discussion will be ideas, capabilities and their limitations. [...] ‘Why won’t this work?’ will likely be part of the talk.”

The proposals for technological adaptations were part of a larger list of suggested safety improvements that the department sent out to city leaders last week. Also on the list were suggestions for improved training techniques, including the updating of videos used by officers in training, conducting more frequent firearms refresher courses and devising a training program specifically tailored to undercover officers.

Another practical, low-cost suggestion was that plainclothes anti-crime officers and regular beat-cops be required to attend meet-and-greet sessions that would give officers from both divisions the chance to become familiar with other servicemen working in their part of the city.

Andrew Dunton, the officer responsible for Edwards’ death, was a member of the anti-crime unit as were the other two officers with him at the scene of the shooting.

Edwards, who was buried on Thursday in Brooklyn, leaves behind a young widow and a toddler son.  The department has given Edwards a posthumous promotion to detective.

Officials from the department say that the investigation into the incident is still open and that Officer Dunton has been temporarily placed on administrative duty until the conclusion of the investigation.

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