By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The Norman Police Department is putting their Skywatch mobile observation tower to use again this year as holiday shoppers hit the department stores for gifts.
The watch tower will be placed around several areas in Norman during the busiest shopping season of the year. Some of those areas include the Sooner Mall and areas along 24th Avenue Northwest, Capt. Mike Praizner said.
Police began using it the week of Thanksgiving before Black Friday had shoppers coming out en masse, and it will be used until Christmas, Praizner said.
The tower helps police prevent crimes in three different ways, he said. First, the visible presence of the tower deters individuals who may be thinking about committing a crime or casing vehicles for an easy theft.
Second, the tower provides a good vantage point for officers looking down on parking lots for suspicious activity. Praizner said many times, people will get easily distracted while holiday shopping and may leave items such as wallets, cell phones or gifts in plain view in their vehicles, making it easily accessible for criminals.
Third, a camera is installed on the tower so even when police are not physically in the “bird’s nest,” they can monitor parking lot activity where the tower is located.
In addition to placing the tower where the bulk of holiday shoppers may be, Praizner said the police department also utilizes their foot and bike patrol officers, as well as regular patrol cars.
If officers in the Skywatch tower see any suspicious activity, Praizner said they use their radios to help officers on the ground contact individuals.
The tower has proven itself useful by not only spotting suspicious activity during the holiday shopping season, Praizner said, but also at many large events Norman hosts, including Norman Music Festival, the Medieval Fair and University of Oklahoma football games, to name a few.
The police department has had the tower for three years. Praizner said it was acquired through the Department of Defense after it was declared a surplus. The tower was originally used for border patrol.
While the units can run between $25,000 to $40,000, Norman paid about $2,000, he said.
“It was what I like to call a smokin’ deal,” Praizner said.
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