Police get GPS units to pinpoint accidents

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A new device will sit atop Natchez police car dashes in the coming months.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation issued the police 36 global positioning system units, one for each officer on patrol, to pinpoint exact locations of automobile accidents.

MDOT issued 3,000 Garmin etrek Venture units throughout the state because of a new crash report form being implemented by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. The new form will ask for the GPS coordinates at automobile accidents.

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MDOT donated the units throughout the state to help with the new forms, making sure each law enforcement agency had adequate equipment to comply.

Each agency received at least one unit and MDOT administrative assistant Christy Burke said the units were distributed based on percentage of crashes reported. Natchez’s 36 units equals 1.2 percent of the total.

&uot;We knew it would be a financial burden to some agencies that would not be able to afford the GPS units, so we got a grant to purchase 3,000,&uot; Burke said.

Now the officers simply write down the address nearest to the accident or write how far the accident is from the nearest address, but starting in September, officers will simply write what their green units tell them is their exact location.

&uot;This will be easier and primarily more accurate,&uot; said Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins. The handheld green units are approximately the size and shape of many cellular phones but locate the coordinates wherever the person holding the unit is, using 24 satellites that are orbiting the earth to pinpoint the location.

The device also will tell how accurate the reading is but it can be accurate up to three meters because Mississippi can use the expansion of the GPS system, WAAS or Wide Area Augmentation System. Without the system, the accuracy is up to 49 feet.

&uot;In an outdoor crime scene that (three meters) wouldn’t be critical like inside,&uot; Mullins said.

Angie Brown, director of records and communication at the Natchez Police Department, said there will be drawbacks to not using the units and writing the GPS coordinates on the crash reports.

&uot;If the coordinates aren’t on there, they won’t accept the report,&uot; Brown said.

This would cause the officers to have to return to the scene and find the coordinates, she said. This backtracking also will have to be done if three satellites cannot read the position, the minimum amount needed to make an accurate reading. The units do not work inside or in very cloudy conditions Officers will have to go back to the location on a cloudy day. The new crash reports, which are expected to be implemented statewide in September, will be sent back to the Department of Public Safety to use in studies of crashes and help identify problem areas, where crashes frequently occur, said Warren Strain, director of public affairs for the state Department of Public Safety.

Natchez Police Sgt. Scott Fry, Sgt. Danny White and Brown attended the training session for the units June 10. The Natchez Police hosted the meeting for surrounding counties while MDOT Safety Engineer Jim Willis taught the class.

These officers will begin training the rest of the Natchez Police soon. Mullins said he hopes to have the units in use before September.