The Norman Transcript

December 12, 2012

Skywatch tower helps keep crowds safe

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — There will be “eyes in the sky” so to speak, again this year during the holiday shopping season.

The Norman Police Department will have their Skywatch tower set up outside of shopping centers to keep an eye on the activity in parking lots during one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year.

Norman Capt. Glen Dobry said officers will be watching for people hanging out in parking lots, people casing vehicles and any other suspicious activity.

The watch tower typically is manned by one or two officers at a time and staffed at various times. Dobry said the tower itself is an aid to the officers working on the ground.

While the police department started a proactive response to holiday shopping many years ago, he said they just began to use the Skywatch tower last year during the holiday season. It allows the officers a better vantage point to see things that officers on the ground might not easily see.

“If there are any problems that might arise, we can relay that information,” Dobry said.

The tower can be picked up and moved in about an hours time he said. It is typically moved to areas where the police know a lot of shopping will be taking place on larger shopping days. It also rotates to different businesses throughout the holiday season.

Dobry said sometimes they also will take the tower somewhere at the request of a business. It is most typically used for events where there will be large crowds.

The Skywatch tower has been used during OU football games, Norman Music Festival, the Medieval Fair and other events.

“It’s an invaluable resource just being able to observe crowds,” Dobry said.

The tower also helps officers respond more quickly to problems when they arise during large events, he said.

The tower is a $150,000 piece of equipment but the police department purchased it for much less. It originally was federal surplus through Homeland Security. Dobry said the federal surplus program is great because it helps them purchase equipment such as the tower that they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.

“We were very fortunate to get it,” he said.

All together the tower was less than $6,000, he said. Of course it had to be refurbished. It was being used in El Paso and was painted to blend in with the desert so a paint job, as well as Norman Police decals, were needed along with new tires and some other things, Dobry said.

So, as many continue to shop for the holidays, the Norman Police Department’s Skywatch tower will be rotating in and out of parking lots to ensure shopper’s safety.

Jessica Bruha366-3540jbruha@normantranscript.com

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