The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, through its Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center’s Technology Transfer Program, has funded and engineered Colorado’s Wireless Communications Interoperability System. The system enables agency-to-agency radio communications for a wide range of daily law enforcement and individual emergency applications.
Although the federal government paid for Colorado’s Wireless Interoperability Communications System so it would be available to support federal, state and local interagency drug interdiction and surveillance operations, the system also is intended to facilitate radio communications interoperability for all public safety operations.
On April 20, 1999, police officers at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., could not communicate by radio with many of the other officers, firefighters and rescue teams sent from neighboring cities and counties to respond to the worst school shootings in the United States.
The reason was incompatible radios, sometimes on different frequencies and sometimes using different technical protocols. For example, Lakewood law enforcement officers couldn’t talk to responding Denver or Sheridan law enforcement officers. The mismatched communications made it difficult for officers to coordinate their efforts and to know who was exactly where.
U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) had vowed to do what he could to reduce the risk of similar communications problems during emergencies of that scale. When he learned that the Office of National Drug Control Policy was experimenting with high-tech systems to solve the problem of incompatible radios, he secured federal funds to make Colorado a wireless interoperability development site for the White House program.
On Aug. 20, 2001, the Denver Metro section of the new statewide system went into operation, connecting U.S. Customs Service officers with local police for hundreds of surveillance and arrest operations.
One year later, John Walters, the special assistant to President Bush who heads the Office of National Drug Control Policy (Walters is commonly referred to as the nation’s “drug czar”), accompanied by Campbell, traveled to suburban Douglas County near Denver to announce the national roll-out of the Wireless Communications Interoperability System.
Walters described it as an effective, low-cost, high-tech fix to local and national law enforcement agencies with radio incompatibility and an important improvement to homeland defense capabilities.
“Drug and other law enforcement operations can be seriously compromised by the prevailing reality that in most areas of America today, local police cannot communicate by radio with state police, the FBI, DEA, Customs and the National Guard,” Walters said.
At the event, Campbell introduced a video that explained the operation of the system and included testimonials by federal and local law enforcement officers who had made almost daily use of the system.
Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Smith, commander of the Boulder County Drug Task Force, said that previously, the only way officers from multiple agencies could communicate with one another by radio was for them to carry one portable radio from each of the other agencies participating in the operations. The video showed Smith in the field, trying to juggle portable radios to communicate across agency lines.
“As you can see,” said Smith’s voice on the video, “this is cumbersome during planned operations, and impossible in unplanned emergency situations. The new system makes easy what had been impossible.”
Walters said: “The Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center, under the leadership of Chief Scientist Dr. Al Brandenstein, has been authorizing research and development engineering on this problem for the past seven years. The result is a custom-engineered-and-installed Wireless Communications Interoperability System, which we are now offering to local and state law enforcement agencies. It takes the full range of dissimilar, independent and incompatible police radios — UHF, analog VHF, digital 800 MHz, digital 700 MHz — and makes simultaneous communication easy.”
The system uses a digital switch connected to radio transceivers from each participating agency. It captures incoming radio messages, converts them to audio and makes them available to as many as seven talk groups, established via the dispatcher’s computer at a host department. In the Denver metro area, the Lakewood Police Department hosts the system.
Since its implementation in Colorado a year ago, the system has enabled local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to communicate simultaneously, facilitating drug busts and seizures of narcotics and guns.
Three days after the terrorist attack on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a credible bomb threat was made against the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood. The Wireless Communications Interoperability System, linked by the Lakewood Police Department, allowed responding fire units, federal agents and local police to coordinate and determine the correct response to the bomb threat.
Similarly, when the Hayman wildfire in Colorado’s Douglas County threatened to burn homes and structures, Lakewood radio technicians made creative use of the system to help neighboring fire departments coordinate their efforts by radio and formulate firefighting and evacuation plans.
The Wireless Communications Interoperability System will be offered to law enforcement agencies across the nation through CTAC’s Technology Transfer Program, which pays for equipment purchase, mandatory training, installation, first-year maintenance and follow-up.
Law enforcement agencies can apply online at www.epgctac.com. The Technology Transfer Program is administered for CTAC by the U.S. Army’s Electronic Proving Ground.
CTAC funds counterdrug efforts
Since 1990, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Counterdrug Technology Assessment Center has been overseeing and coordinating the counterdrug research and development programs of all federal drug control agencies.
It sponsors a counterdrug technology research and development program to advance the technological capabilities of federal drug control agencies and a Technology Transfer Program to enhance the capabilities of state and local law enforcement agencies for counterdrug missions.
The counterdrug research and development program addresses the scientific and technological needs of the federal drug control agencies.
It has included demand reduction projects in brain imaging technology, therapeutic medications, assessment of treatment programs, supply reduction projects for cargo inspection, for drug smuggling, drug crime information handling, communications, and surveillance.
The counterdrug research and development program also includes operational test and evaluation activities to evaluate off-the-shelf and emerging technology prototypes for use in the field.
During the past three years, Congress has appropriated $39 million, empowering CTAC to provide federally developed advanced devices and systems to about 4,000 of America’s 18,500 state and local law enforcement agencies.
These technologies allow cops to communicate across agency lines in real time despite incompatible radios, see through darkness, detect money laundering, penetrate complex drug trafficking conspiracies with digital wiretaps, track drug dealers via satellite, share drug crime information among regional departments, and convert shaky, apparently useless surveillance video into clear, court-presentable evidence.
Many arrests, indictments, and convictions have been credited to the technologies, and officer safety has improved as a result of the deployment of the Technology Transfer Program.
— Source: The White House