Wireless use helps to meet public safety budget limits
Hardware and software technology improvements have allowed mobile wireless applications to emerge as a way for public safety organizations to improve service in spite of decreasing budgets.
Because criminals are increasingly mobile, the need for more efficient services, increased officer safety and real-time access to criminal records has skyrocketed. At the same time, law enforcement budgets have been forced to include cost-effective approaches to improve serv-ice and enhance the level of safety provided to the public. With the evolution of new hardware and software technologies, mobile wireless applications are emerging as one way to meet these goals.
Early advancements In the ’70s, several pioneering law enforcement agencies turned to wireless communications to transmit up-to-date crime history to mobile patrol vehicles to increase the probability of removing criminal offenders from the streets.
Early wireless data technologies consisted primarily of message switches, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and second radio systems that had been modified to send and receive only data. The systems were custom-designed and expensive to implement, but as they came on-line, they helped to form the foundation of future law enforcement systems.
Today’s technology Law enforcement agencies need improved methods for identifying and tracking highly mobile criminals on local, national and global scales in real time. The solutions offered today largely result from the integration of many networking standards and wireless technologies with software applications products specifically designed for law enforcement.
The ability to have criminal histories and up-to-date information at the fingertips of the mobile officers is a key element of any integrated solution. Crime databases can be logically tied together and can allow law enforcement agencies at all levels to receive and transmit information among themselves.
An example of this trend is the FBI’s continued development of the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC). NCIC gives federal, state and local law enforcement agencies a way to share information. Interconnected databases have an advantage over central databases by spreading the cost among agencies, providing greater access controls by the departments supplying the information, and helping to minimize denial-of-service. Many government agencies such as the EPA and FBI are working together on information databases that will one day be interconnected. The same tools that will be connecting law enforcement agencies nationally can also be used on a global scale.
In other efforts to cut costs and improve service, many law enforcement agencies couple privately purchased wireless networks with public networks for data communications. Public networks can extend an agency’s wireless coverage for less cost than either expanding or purchasing a new private network. Public networks can potentially cost less, and law enforcement agencies can benefit from any improvements to the system because the newest and fastest modes of communication will always be available.
As with all new technologies, these approaches have shortcomings. For example, private wireless networks have the advantages of confidentiality and control, although they sacrifice the cost-saving potential of public networks. Even though public networks cost less and cover large areas without the need for individual agencies to purchase dedicated communications equipment, public systems generally do not offer the level of access, performance and security that an agency may desire.
Law enforcement will see ever-increasing use of digital wireless communication technologies and lower costs in both the private and public networks. Digital communications will be used because the transfer of digital voice and data is more reliable than analog. Also, it can be encrypted more easily to provide higher security.
An integrated solution requires blending wireless technologies, networking standards and software applications specifically designed with law enforcement agencies’ needs in mind. Many companies offer products such as workforce management (CAD), message switching and connectivity and mobile inquiry and reporting applications. Companies vary in the level of integration and services that they offer. Some provide integrated end-to-end solutions, and others provide only products or components that can be integrated as part of a total solution.
In the past, wireless data communications were hindered by cost, performance and the lack of integration. The technology choices available today are much more diverse and can be easily tailored to meet the goals of law enforcement agencies.
Future directions Mobile computing has driven new innovations in wireless data networking, and it will continue to do so. Future technologies such as NCIC 2000 will integrate new functions and technologies by the addition of image processing such as mugshot, signature and identifying marks; the addition of automated single-finger fingerprint matching; the automation of some NCIC functions that are currently manually performed (e.g., validations, collection of data); the access to new databases (e.g., convicted person on supervised release); the addition of linkage fields, providing the ability to associate multiple records with the same criminal or the same crime; and the access to external databases (e.g., the Canadian Police Information Center [CPIC] and the Federal Bureau of Prisons database).
Integrating wireless applications and systems with the functions that will be available through NCIC 2000 will get information to the officer in the car, make photographic images available and use single fingerprint technology for immediate positive identification. It will increase officer safety and reduce the risk of detaining the wrong individual.
Implementation of NCIC 2000 will require each state to update its law enforcement network_a major expense for states, as well as for many large cities and counties. Some states favor shared statewide systems to reduce the costs of implementing new technology. One example is the North Carolina State Highway Patrol (SHP). SHP, along with the state government, has created the Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN). This wireless network is available for all state, city, county and local law enforcement agencies within the state to use.
Another example is the ALERTS network, which was created and is managed by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. It provides mobile data service to more than 200 law enforcement agencies in an 18-county area. In March 1995, the Illinois State Police formed a partnership with the authority to expand and enhance the ALERTS network. Since then, a number of other agencies, realizing the benefits the new network can provide, have joined the partnership and will be providing funding for Phase I of the project. The goal of this cooperative, three-phase project is to upgrade the existing system so that it is a statewide, high-speed network capable of transmitting images and meeting state and local agencies’ mobile data needs.
Current and future technologies offer more options for deployment than did previous technologies and can provide fully integrated capabilities to send and receive data anywhere at any time. As new hardware and software technologies continue to advance, the use of mobile wireless applications will become more widespread among public safety agencies. Mobile wireless applications are already proving to be an efficient and effective means for providing law enforcement and other public officials with real-time access to information. In the future, mobile wireless may well become the preferred approach to cost-effective information exchange.