ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – The night terrorists attacked, killing scores in Paris, France, the chief of police in St. Louis was very much on edge 4300 miles away. Team USA was about to take the pitch at Busch Stadium in a World Cup qualifying match, and no one could be certain if ISIS’ coordinated raid in France didn’t have other targets. Just how nervous was Chief Sam Dotson?
“Nervous enough that I was standing at the ballpark during the soccer game making sure everything was going well,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Speaking in the city’s high tech, new real time crime center, Dotson pointed to the need for quick and instant communication to fight crime and , if necessary, terror. He points to the night of the Paris attacks as how to react here.
“Immediately we were able to task additional officers in the area of Busch Stadium. We were able to task some of the surveillance cameras that were in the area to look for suspicious activity.”
And they have the tools in place for all that and more. In the brief period we were in the real time crime center, detectives were able to play a recording of about fourteen gunshots fired off earlier in the day. The shots were detected and located by a system called “Shot Spotter” which claims to be able to pinpoint gunfire anywhere in a 3.5 square mile quadrant of the city.
“That means multiple shots were fired from that locations and they can tell from a pretty close proximity where the shots were fired,” Captain Angela Coonce told us about the icon that appeared on a map tied to the software.
Moments later an alarm sounded, notifying officers of a car that had passed a camera located at Tucker and Washington. The camera scans every passing license plate and alerts on a wanted or stolen vehicle.
On day to day bases, these devises are used in an effort to tackle the city’s crime problems, but Dotson says they could quickly be re-tasked in the event of a terror attack.
There are many things that worry Dotson these days. He’s particularly concerned about discussions he’s had with the FBI lately about would-be terrorists “going dark” to communicate with one another. They’re using technology that’s on the open commercial market to encrypt communication with one another. Dotson says they are codes no one can crack.
“That message that was just sent between two individuals is automatically deleted or encrypted and can never be decrypted. That is a huge problem for us. Even with a search warrant from a judge, that information is still hidden from law enforcement. That is a huge problem, especially if those individuals who are local or domestic want to go active.”
And what are St. Louis’ greatest vulnerabilities? That, he says, is immensely difficult to answer.
“I think we’re most vulnerable where people want us to be vulnerable. And what I mean by that is we may be focused on a soccer game or baseball game or football game and it’s a movie theater. We may be focused on a movie theater and it’s a shopping center.
“There is not blueprint for this. We are going into uncharted territory. We are going into areas that as a nation, we haven’t experienced before where we have domestic individuals, people living in the United States that are intent on doing us harm. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but that’s what keeps me up at night,” Dotson said.