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Gadget Sheds New Light on Police Work


An $11,000 high-tech gadget has been added to the Cypress Police Department's crime-fighting arsenal.

The Forward Looking Infrared is a small, white apparatus mounted behind the light bar on top of a patrol car. Inside the car, a monitor attached to the dashboard enables a specially trained officer to search for criminals or objects in complete darkness, from a distance.

"You can be driving 15 to 20 mph, and you can watch the little monitor and still watch the roadway," Police Chief John D. Hensley said.

Although night-vision goggles are similar, driving with them is impossible, like driving a car with binoculars.

"In several cases, we caught bad guys thinking they could get away on the beach because of the darkness," Hensley said.

Cypress is the only city in Orange County to have the infrared device mounted on a patrol car. Most infrared devices are attached to helicopters. Hensley said the Manhattan Beach Police Department, where he used to work, was the first to put the device on a car in the early '90s.

The device also saves time and provides an added measure of security for the officer, he said. Cypress, although not a large city, has its share of large parks and grassy areas.

Last year, when gunmen were on the run after a shooting at Forest Lawn mortuary, eight officers had to search for them in darkness in the roughly 180-acre cemetery.

"If we had the same situation again, we could search the place in a fraction of the time," Hensley said.

The surveillance device tracks heat sources. It can spot a handprint on a wall, someone hiding in bushes or a smoking gun. The picture that appears on the monitor consists of varying shades of gray, black and white. For example, a car that had been recently driven would show its tires and hood as white.

So far, the officers who have been using the patrol car with the Forward Looking Infrared are pleased with its results. A few days ago, officers used it on a disturbance call, Lt. Michael Idom said.

"Two officers positioned themselves in different places on the street, and one was actually able to observe the juveniles hiding in the area by using the infrared," Idom said.

Ana Beatriz Cholo can be reached at (714) 966-5890.

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