The Marana Police Department has equipped five patrol cars with thermal-imaging cameras, making it easier for officers to do their work.
The equipment, which cost $19,500 — made possible through a grant — is another tool for officers to use when searching for a bad guy, ditched vehicles or weapons, and missing persons, said Sgt. Chris Warren, a spokesman for the department.
The thermal imager “basically makes hiding in the dark impossible,” said patrol Officer Michael Holberg, a seven-year veteran.
“I can conduct surveillance in an area and see everything around me without being visible to the suspect,” Holberg said.
The imager, which is mounted on the cars’ front driver-side pillar, can detect the infrared heat from a person hiding behind a bush, tossed weapons against cold ground, and heat clues in latent tire tracks and skid marks.
The video images can be viewed on the laptop computers in the officers’ vehicles.
Infrared also reflects off windows, metal structures, smooth concrete walls and other opaque surfaces, providing a mirroring ability around corners day or night, according to information from the manufacturer at www.noptic.com
“This infrared technology allows officers on the ground to have the same basic technology that was previously only available on a law enforcement helicopter,” Warren said.
In search-and-rescue operations, missing or injured persons may be located with the equipment before needing to call for lengthy search deployments, Warren said.
The Marana Police Department does not have its own helicopter unit, but if needed, it calls on the state Department of Public Safety, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department or the Tucson Police Department’s air unit.
The thermal imager is an additional tool officers can use until a K-9 unit or helicopter unit arrives, Warren explained.
He said the equipment can also record and save images that can be used at trial.
The department has a fleet of 45 patrol cars.
“If we find this equipment to be beneficial, we will continue to look for funding sources to help purchase additional thermal imagers to outfit additional patrol cars in the future,” Chief Terry Rozema said. “We are continually looking for ways to increase safety for our officers and to improve the service we provide to our community.”