For a behind the scenes video of staff photographer John B. Carnett's photo shoot with the LASD, check out the video at the bottom of this page. And for a gallery of the latest and greatest crime-fighting gadgets, click here to launch the gallery.
It´s a sweltering Saturday afternoon in late August, and I´m crouched beside a run-down house in East L.A. with Commander Sid Heal of the Los Angeles Sheriff´s Department. Rather than peek through the window and expose his head, Heal points a boxy-looking device at the side of the house and flips a switch. A grainy image of a man inside appears on the device´s screen. Heal and I watch him walk across the living room, enter a closet, and crouch down.
We´re not on a stakeout, exactly. More like a shopping expedition. As head of the LASD´s Technology Exploration Unit (TEU), Heal is hunting for a gadget that can see through walls. Standing behind us, Avrom Gilbert, a representative with Camero, the Virginia-based company that makes the radar system, explains how it works. It relies on ultra-wide-band radio waves to penetrate wood and concrete. Complex 3-D computer software processes the signals and generates an image.
The device seems miraculous to me, but Heal has the manner of someone sizing up a used car. He peppers Gilbert with questions: How long does the battery last? Can it be recharged from a vehicle? How much training is necessary? How many seconds does it take from unpacking to getting a useful image? Can the metal often found in California stucco cause distortions?
Heal, 56, is the LASD´s technology guru, charged with procuring futuristic crime-fighting equipment. In a post 9/11 world, police work is more complicated than it used to be, and the traditional handcuffs and pistol aren´t enough anymore. In his 10 years with the TEU, Heal has tested hundreds of gizmos, including stink bombs, pain beams, a bullhorn that can project sound up to two miles away, spy drones, a microwave emitter that can stall the engine of a fleeing car, and blinding LED strobe lights [see the gadget gallery here].
Part of the need for new equipment stems from the changing role of law enforcement. "The line between war and crime has become blurred," Heal says as we drive away from the house. "Police officers are now expected to prevent and respond to terrorism. Soldiers are asked to guard prisoners and investigate crimes. Street cops have sub-machine guns."