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Suffolk Police Tout Use Of Thermal Infrared Technology To Fight Crime

'If You're Out There And You're Running From The Cops, We're Gonna Find You'
SCPD helicopter with thermal imaging device known as FLIR ball affixed. (credit: Mona Rivera, 1010 WINS)

SCPD helicopter with thermal imaging device known as FLIR ball affixed. (credit: Mona Rivera, 1010 WINS)

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RONKONKOMA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The world watched as thermal imaging helped catch the Boston Marathon bomb suspect.

But police in the Tri-State Area said expensive infra-red chopper cameras, known as a FLIR ball, are growing in sophistication and will be used in new ways, as secret weapons in the sky.

Some experts predict the manhunt and apprehension in the Boston area will affect law enforcement policies for years to come.

“The infrared has changed policing completely…you can use it day or night,” Suffolk County Police Aviation Sgt. Gene Sengstacken told CBS 2′s Jennifer McLogan on Tuesday.

Now, instead of waiting for liftoff until a crime has been committed, some agencies will already be up in the air hovering.

“It’s very discreet. It gives us a distinct advantage over the bad guy. We’re an asset here, waiting to help out,” said Officer Frank Lombardi.

Expert pilots in Suffolk County said they are relying on thermal imaging’s new breakthrough heat technology.

“If you’re out there and you’re running from the cops, we’re gonna find you,” Lombardi told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera.

Earlier models could only look straight ahead.

“What our eye can’t see, the sensor in this camera can and turns it into a visual picture,” said Lombardi.

“Technologies have existed before, but we haven’t used them in quite the same way, in this same comprehensive way, where we coordinate all the different elements,” terrorism expert Michael Balboni said.

Balboni was New York state’s homeland security chief. He said the new law enforcement challenge after Boston will be to take advantage of social media and combine it with eyes in the sky and eyes on the ground.

“The times we are living in are absolutely fantastic with the technology that is emerging,” Lombardi said.

Authorities are now tasked with the responsibility of using this advanced technology without it breaking laws or interfering with civil liberties.

In 2001 the Supreme Court ruled that the use of thermal scans to monitor heat sources inside a person’s home, should be considered a “search” under the Fourth Amendment and would require a warrant.

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