Thermal imaging unit purchased with grant dollars

Published 8:42 am Saturday, March 29, 2003

By By SARAH HODGES Staff Writer
The Washington Police Department recently added updated technology to its arsenal of crime investigating tools -- at no cost to the city.
Lt. Cliff Hales, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, submitted a grant to obtain the Palm IR 250, a hand-held thermal imaging unit, from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The unit picks up variations in temperatures, helping officers "see" people and objects not visible to the naked eye.
One popular use of the equipment has been the detection of marijuana plants from outside people's homes or businesses. A 1991 Supreme Court decision limited the use of thermal imaging units to seek out marijuana growing inside a residence without a search warrant. However, detectives said using the equipment is still one of the best ways to detect marijuana plants in other situations.
Hales said drug enforcement is not the application for the technology.
According to Hales, the equipment will enable officers to operate in much safer conditions.
For example, the unit can detect a person hiding in the woods, as it zeroes in on heat generated from the person's body. Building and vehicle profiles will be made safer for an approaching officer, as well.
Accident investigations are another area that may benefit from use of the device. According to Hales, the unit will pick up skid marks on pavement.
The grant written by Hales covered much more than the equipment, which is valued at approximately $14,000. All expenses were covered for a 26-hour certification course recently held in Florida. The Office of National Drug Control Policy grant offers one piece of such equipment per agency each year in lieu of direct funding. This is the first year the Washington Police Department has been the recipient of this type of grant.