The New Horizon: Transferring Defense Technology to Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

In the wake of the Cold War, America's attention has shifted from military threats abroad to threats posed by criminals at home. As violence proliferates on city streets and in rural towns, society is seeking better ways to stop it. Adding more police officers to department rosters and implementing numerous social and economic programs constitute some of the current methods of addressing the crime problem.

The Government Technology Transfer Program(1) has made another promising approach available to law enforcement. This initiative enables Department of Defense and commercial organizations to work together to assist law enforcement through the application of defense-related technology.

As part of this initiative, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) operates the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC),(2) as well as four regional technology centers across the country. These regional centers use existing facilities and resources to provide specialty support to NIJ's Office of Science and Technology and to the law enforcement and corrections field. Each center has a specific technological focus.

Rome Laboratory hosts the Northeast Regional Center. For more than 40 years, Rome Laboratory has developed the technologies that have provided the vital eyes, ears, and voices for the American military. This article describes some of the defense technologies being converted for law enforcement uses by this regional center.


Law enforcement and defense missions share similar concerns and strategies. A key concept in the defense community is command, control, communications, and intelligence, known collectively as C3I. C3I includes a broad range of techniques and technologies that increase the effectiveness of a deployed force. It enables troops to perform operations more rapidly and safely and allows actions to be contained within a desired area or to a specific group of combatants.

Command and control, the first two components of C3I, address resource allocation and general mission planning - aspects shared by most law enforcement operations. As forces execute the plan, commanders monitor progress and issue corrective orders to deal with the changing scenario.

The intelligence aspect of C3I refers to covertly acquiring, cataloging, and using relevant information about the enemy or its environment. In a military scenario, intelligence could include maps, pictures, or the results of interviews. For law enforcement, it also could encompass street maps, train station locations, pictures of known suspects, fingerprint files, or any other information that might provide a clue or help to determine an optimum course of action.

Closely related to intelligence is surveillance, which the military most often uses to identify both hostile and friendly forces. A radar or multispectral device used to detect an airborne threat would be one type of surveillance sensor. Law enforcement applications could include video cameras for street surveillance and multifrequency sensors for contraband detection.

The final element of C3I is communications, the infrastructure that ties everything together. Anything related to the exchange of information falls into this category, such as computer links, printed text, voice transmissions, photographs, and other imagery, to name a few.

The parallels between the military C3I concept and a similar law enforcement C3I concept easily can be recognized. Law enforcement applications include, for example, riot control, mission planning, timely decisionmaking, covert surveillance, and illegal drug interdiction. As more and more law enforcement agencies with adjacent or overlapping jurisdictions join forces to combat crime, C3I technologies will become particularly useful for coordinating activities and making the most effective use of resources.


A good plan can make all the difference in whether an operation succeeds or fails. …