Taking criminal justice resources into the wild
Checking criminal records and vehicle registrations are routine tasks for state and local police, who have access to state, national and international databases through the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System. But NLETS is run by the states, and federal officers generally do not have this access.
“They still rely on friends at local agencies,” to do routine checks, said Roger Karr of InterAct Public Safety.
Because of security requirements that NLETS must meet in order access sensitive databases such as the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, the state operators are reluctant to allow access to federal agencies outside their jurisdiction and their control.
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But federal offices such as the game wardens in the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service still use that information. They deal not only with poachers and trespassers but increasingly with drug traffickers who use the National Wildlife Refuges for cover and fugitives seeking to hide out in remote areas.
“These guys are dealing with people with weapons all of the time,” Karr said. “They needed help.”
InterAct provides field access to NLETS through its InterAct Mobile application for laptops and PocketCop for BlackBerry phones. With the InterAct Law Enforcement Data Delivery System (ILEDDS), the firm also provides a federal interface to NLETS to enable officers to do their own records checks.
FWS, whose offices typically work alone and patrol large areas without backup, spearheaded the adoption of the technology. Now the PocketCop and Mobile applications are being used in four of the agency’s nine regions. “The No. 1 reason we did this was for officer safety,” said FWS zone officer David Nicely, who was instrumental in getting access to the applications.
The officers depend on their networked laptops and agency-issued BlackBerrys while working in the field, and these now provide direct access to law enforcement databases without having to go through the dispatcher at a local department. The applications also were customized for FWS use.
“Everybody does things differently, and the regulations are different,” Nicely said. Among the changes are the ability to do queries on registrations for water and aircraft, which most police rarely if ever need.
Field officers also can get information quickly, without having to wait for a dispatcher who might be busy and unable to submit NLETS queries immediately. The mobile apps offer additional features, including the ability to locate other officers on duty through the Global Positioning System, form ad hoc talk groups to share information, and broadcast an emergency notice for assistance that includes a GPS location. When users are doing records checks, it also notifies them if another officer using the system has run a check on the same individual.
“If I run [a search on] a guy in Pennsylvania, and if any one of our other officers ran this guy somewhere else, PocketCop will bring up an icon and give that officer’s name and contact information,” Nicely said. “That’s one of the things I thought was great.”
Although field access to NLETS helps to make federal officers more self-sufficient, it does not change the fact that they often are working alone and have to depend on state and local police for help.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t use the radio to call these people,” Nicely said. “We still need these guys.”
William Jackson is a senior writer of GCN and the author of the CyberEye blog.