D.C. cops, feds plan wireless net

The Capital Wireless Integrated Network could have helped state, local and federal law enforcement agencies handle this month's multijurisdictional case of the elusive Beltway sniper. But CapWIN won't be ready for action until next year.

As many as 10,000 law enforcement officers eventually will use the wireless bridge across all Washington area police and fire networks, said Fred Davis, CapWIN's deputy program director.

'We regret that it's not operational yet,' the retired state trooper said. 'It would be useful to be able to communicate discreetly car to car' instead of being overheard on police frequencies.

IBM Corp. is building the communications bridge with help from the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies and funding from the U.S. Office of Justice Programs.

The interjurisdictional wireless network has been in development for two years. Twenty-two police cars are part of a pilot to test voice and data connections via wireless devices.

Next August CapWIN is slated to begin communicating with criminal justice databases in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

'We're on a very aggressive schedule,' Davis said. First CapWIN has to provide mobile data systems for area departments that lack the equipment. CapWIN must next combine with criminal justice databases, then with transportation centers in Maryland and Virginia, and finally with stovepiped police wireless systems across the region.

Cops on patrol will be able to communicate directly with the nearest police, fire and rescue units instead of going through a dispatcher. Emergency responders with CapWIN-enabled PCs, handheld computers and wireless phones can consult various government databases and talk in restricted-access chat mode via an instant messaging application.

CapWIN must be able to handle multiple wireless carriers and their protocols, such as Cellular Digital Packet Data and IEEE 802.11b WiFi. And security must exceed requirements of the FBI's National Crime Information Center.

'Programming interfaces is easy, but we have to have agreements,' Davis said. 'We don't just go write an interface.'

Authorization must be obtained, for example, from state police departments to connect to the Maryland Interagency Law Enforcement System and the Virginia Criminal Information Network.

'If you're a police chief in the operational area, and you have a proprietary radio network, we will have provisions to interface you into CapWIN,' he said.

IBM announced in August that its First-Responder Interoperability Solution will run on clustered eServer pSeries Unix platforms with message routing via IBM WebSphere.

Other components that IBM announced are Informant data-sharing software from Templar Corp. of Alexandria and rugged mobile hardware from Pelican Mobile Computers Inc. of Glen Burnie, Md. PB Farradyne Inc. and TeleCommunication Systems Corp. will provide consulting and implementation services. More information appears at www.capwinproject.com.

GCN chief technology editor Susan M. Menke contributed to this article.

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