`James Bond' Technologies Becoming More Prevalent in Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

James Bond, move over. High tech law enforcement has moved from the silver screen and into local jurisdictions.

Hand-held computers, satellite surveillance, facial recognition and geographic information systems are among the new tools police are adding to their arsenals to combat crime.

"In today's world, post 9/11, police forces are having to become technology savvy consumers," said Don Quire, a deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department in Florida and the department's SWAT liaison.

Just as fingerprint identification and DNA testing advanced the science of criminal investigation, advances in computer technology and telecommunications are having a profound impact on how patrol officers and detectives perform their jobs.

Many of those new technologies get their first field test by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department SWAT Team. Capt. Charles "Sid" Heal said the department began a program in the mid-90s called Technology Exploration. Its goal was to try to adapt military technologies to civilian law enforcement.

Since then, the 41 cities that contract with the sheriff's department and the county's unincorporated areas have become a fertile testing laboratory for everything from portable command centers and popper balls to sophisticated electronic surveillance methods.

Heal said he will not accept a product for testing if the company requires the department to keep certain aspects of it proprietary. He also urges developers to keep the cost down, so that smaller departments can acquire successful products.

"There are about 19,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. Fifty percent of those have less than 24 officers, and half of those have less than 12 officers. We consider ourselves the stewards of this information, not the owners. There's not a single thing we've tested that would be beyond any department's budget," Heal said.

That includes one of the most sophisticated projects the department has helped develop--ground link video. The concept, as written by Heal, is for a command post that exists in cyberspace. Officers in the field would be linked to the command post via small cameras, which would transmit audio and video signals to commanding officers.

But that is not all. Heal said other high tech sensors would allow officers in the field to record images in the electro magnet spectrum and sensors that would allow officers to tap into the senses of K-9 units. Other possible uses of the system would be to allow officers in the field to immobilize cell phones or even a garage door opener.

The ground video link would also allow officers at the command post to instantly transmit data to experts in chemical, biological and nuclear warfare.

"And the amazing thing is, we've got maybe $50,000 invested in this and we expect to see a working prototype in two years," said Heal. "We've been able to keep the cost low by looking for existing technology that we could easily integrate into the system. The real cost for us is in developing the software to get this information onto the Internet."

In a similar vein, other companies are modifying existing technology for use by police officers. One such device is the PocketCop, a handheld, wireless device that can access information from the National Criminal Information Center, and is being used successfully by the Highland Park, Tex., Police Department.

The handheld computers, developed by Public Safety Group Inc., come with a wireless modem and secure Internet access. PocketCop allows access to state and federal law enforcement databases, including license plate or arrest warrant information.

Besides accessing databases, officers can use the device to take notes at a crime scene without having to re-enter the information in the squad car or back at the precinct. …