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What’s new in law enforcement technology: Part 2

Part 2 of a 2-part series

Editor’s note: In Part 1, Police1 columnist Capt. Eddie Reyes shared a debrief on some of the new technologies featured at the recent International Association of Police Chiefs – Law Enforcement Information Management (IACP – LEIM) conference and the Annual Meeting and Conference of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police held in Nassau, Bahamas. Included were new locator technology, bi-directional amplifiers, non-terrestrial mobile radio service and over-over-IP innovations. Continuing the series, we begin with a look at developments in video technology.

Video surveillance

There is much talk today in the law enforcement community about using video surveillance, also known as situational awareness. Strategically deployed video enhances the decision making process and provides a distinctive advantage.

Planning, preparation and training is essential when deploying video solutions. In light of the most recent school shooting at Virginia Tech, law enforcement can no longer wait until special tactical units arrive on the scene in order to stabilize an active shooting incident. A vast majority of the law enforcement agencies across the United States are agencies with less than 100 sworn personnel and often rely on regional special response teams in order to neutralize a significant threat such as an active shooter. Even those with full time teams often encounter these incidents when the teams are not working.

Therefore, we need a tool that is effective, reasonably priced and working when these incidents occur so that on duty personnel can respond immediately. First responders need live video data in these challenging environments in order to neutralize the threat immediately while minimizing injury and/or death to civilians and personnel. It is one thing to get the images from these cameras to a law enforcement desktop-setting. It is something significantly more challenging to get these same images to a mobile environment.

Most mobile data systems are only capable of receiving and transmitting small packets of data, such as text that we normally receive from federal and state criminal justice databases, like NCIC. One significant consideration that will almost always surface when discussing the implementation of video systems is privacy. While there are those who will see this as an infringement of their privacy, others will certainly feel more secure knowing that public safety agencies have access to this critical information when needed.

On the technical side, the good news is that there are several networks robust enough to transmit these signals/images. The most common frequencies being used for video transmissions include EV-DO; 4.9 GHz and 700 MHz.

Tactical video

While it is important to neutralize a serious threat as quickly as possible, that doesn’t mean throwing officer safety to the wind. The old saying applies here – “if you can’t get there, you can’t help”. Two mobile and tactical video applications being used by law enforcement today are:

• Video cameras on the end of poles which allow first responders to look into high areas such as a second story or underneath items, such as under a vehicle or crawl spaces. These pole cameras also allow you to quickly peek around a corner before going around. The basic models will display images on a personal monitor typically located at the user-end of the pole, whereas the more advanced models will transmit these same images to a mobile command post, in addition to the personal monitor. The challenge with the more advanced models is transmitting the images back to the command post. Again, a small area network, such as 4.9 GHz, is necessary to transmit these images.

• Through-the-wall cameras and sensors that allow first responders to view through walls before breaching a door. While this technology is fairly new for tactical operations, it has been used quite extensively by the US military. Cost and effectiveness have been two primary reasons local and state agencies have not used this technology more. Effectiveness in that this technology seems to work best with non-hardened walls, such as drywall or vinyl siding. This technology is not very effective with brick or metal walls.

However, ongoing development has allowed this technology to become cost effective. Hand held units can range in price from $6,000 up to $30,000 for the more advanced models.

In-car video systems

Law enforcement executives and the public have come to rely heavily on in-car video images from the field. While this topic can be a very controversial, i.e., some officers resent a camera onboard their patrol vehicle (fearing the “Big Brother” syndrome, while others won’t go out on the street without one.

More often than not, in-car video systems have proved extremely valuable in defending personnel during use of force scenarios or inappropriate behavior. But before any agency goes out and buys the “latest and greatest”, it is important to know that purchasing in-car video systems is a complicated process and is no longer simply just a fleet manager’s responsibility. The purchase of these systems will now raise critical and technical issues that will most likely involve input from not only the field personnel, but those in your technical services as well. The IACP and NIJ have been conducting extensive research on this topic and should be contacted in order to receive FREE technical and operational requirements.

NLETS interstate sharing of photos (NISP)

Everyday and every hour, hundreds of law enforcement officers encounter violators who cannot produce positive identification, such as a driver’s license. Some honestly forgot their driver’s license at home, while others lie because their license is not valid and/or are wanted. In order to assist law enforcement agencies from having to physically arrest every violator who cannot produce positive identification, a three state pilot project will begin sharing more comprehensive driver’s license information and photos to assist officers with positive identification.

The states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have launched a pilot project with NLETS funded in collaboration with grants from the US Department of Homeland Security, and the US Department of Justice’s NIJ and COPS Office. NLETS celebrates its 40-year anniversary this year and, as you know, is the international criminal justice agency that already allows law enforcement agencies to receive lots of critical information from NCIC and other state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) in text format, just to name a few.

The primary focus of this project is to disseminate the DMV photos along with the traditional text data we are accustomed to receiving. Another big part of this project is focusing on image and transmission standards while using the existing NLETS infrastructure. This is an outstanding project considering how the incidents of identity theft have increased significantly around the globe.

Voice response translator

Many of us work in municipalities where immigrants from other countries have moved into our cities quicker than we have been able to keep up by hiring foreign language speakers. While these immigrants can bring very positive diversity to any community, they can also be a challenge to public safety agencies when providing critical services. Challenges such as having bilingual personnel on duty 24 hours a day. Being a bilingual officer myself, I have translated hundreds of times at the scene, over the cell phone and the police radio.

When you consider that hiring bilingual officers can cost an average of $45,000 per year per officer, agencies with limited funding have turned to a voice response translator as a viable option. Originally developed for military application for one-way voice translation on the spot when human translators are unavailable, lots of research and development has gone into these devices for domestic public safety use. At a cost of approximately $3,200 per unit, they have been successfully deployed in law enforcement agencies for daily field operations, such as traffic stops or victim/suspect interviews when a human translator is unavailable.

These voice response translators can have options such megaphone attachments for wide area broadcasts and power chargers for continuous, low-budget use. While this technology is not as effective as having a human translator at the scene of an incident, it can be a very effective tool when you have no other options.

In conclusion

The maintenance of peace and good order in all of our communities is fundamental, and we are charged with effectively carrying out this mission. In today’s world where criminals transcend boundaries constantly, it is important for law enforcement to stay ahead of these elements by focusing on the most advanced technology to assist in this mission. Data sharing is the new “buzz” word and the theme I hear repeatedly is “law enforcement agencies must cooperate and share information in order to prevent and solve crime.”

I am very happy to see happening and that standards and standards-based platforms in technology are starting to blossom, making data sharing quickly attainable. As we continue in our quest to develop strategies and deal with those who chose to cause us harm, we can be more effective by working with each other and the private sector to accomplish our mission. It is important that we strengthen our bonds with our technology partners in order to discharge our duties with courage and integrity. Our reward generally comes from the sincere gratitude of the people we serve and protect.

Sponsored by Cisco Systems

Capt. Reyes, Alexandria (VA) PD, is currently the Arlandria Area Commander in Alexandria. He was formerly assigned to the CommTech Program (formerly the AGILE Program), one of the most successful programs of the National Institute of Justice.

While at NIJ, he managed public safety radio interoperability operations for the City of Alexandria. Captain Reyes commanded the Emergency Communications Section of the Alexandria PD and chaired the Metro Washington Council of Governments Police Technology Subcommittee, which focuses on regional technology issues impacting law enforcement.

He chairs the VA State Interoperability Executive Committee and sits on the Law Enforcement Information Management Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the US Department of Homeland Security’s SAFECOM Advisory Working Group.

Captain Reyes is a native of New Mexico and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from New Mexico State University. He is presently working on his Master’s Degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Administration of Justice at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.