Police test secure, interoperable app for smart phones

 A West Coast police department is using a software-based system that provides its officers with military-grade secure communications though their mobile devices. The system also allows federal, state and local law enforcement organizations to communicate and coordinate operations.

The Foothill-DeAnza Community College District (CCD) Police Department provides security for a large state education district with more than 43,000 students per quarter. Located in the San Francisco Bay area between Cupertino and San Jose, the college receives many visits from politicians and foreign dignitaries such as Colin Powell and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said Ron Levine, chief of the Foothill-DeAnza CCD police department.

During the Blair visit, the department beta tested its new communications technology to coordinate security and crowd control, Levine said. Blair was traveling with FBI and State Department security details who could not communicate with either the college’s police or local police departments. It was also known that Blair’s visit would attract some demonstrators, Levine said, noting that Colin Powell’s visit drew demonstrators who eventually rioted on campus.

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The technology deployed and tested by the CCD police department is the Alert and Respond system developed by Covia Labs. The communications and command and control application was loaded onto the smart phones issued to the department’s officers. The smart phones were used to supplement nonsecure police radio communications with the ability for officers to send secure voice, text and photographs, Levine said.

CCD officers used secure text messaging to coordinate security operations without worrying about their communications being monitored, Levine said. Police also sent photographs of the demonstrators back to headquarters in almost real time to help assess and respond to the event. The smart phones have a secure push-to-talk capability, but because of the slight delay in voice communications, he said this capability was used for secure but non-urgent messages.

The Alert and Respond system can be deployed on any smart phone, laptop or personal computer, Levine said. Besides providing the department’s police with it, participating local law enforcement agencies, as well as the FBI and State Department teams were connected into the network. The system allows users to provide access control to determine who can access the network. A message is sent to the smart phones of all the participating personnel with a link to the system's web site.

“The best part of this is when an operation is over, we can drop them [other organizations] out of the network,” Levine said.

One of the major advantages of the system is its interoperability because any user with a smart phone can use it, he said. CCD police officers used Android devices with LTE data connectivity. “It doesn’t matter what agency you work for or what phone you have,” he said.

Alert and Respond also allows networks to be set up on the fly. For example, if there is an incident on campus, the department can quickly and securely share information between its personnel and local law enforcement and first responders. “This is an absolute boon to the first responder community,” said Levine.

The secure voice and data transmissions are supported by 256-bit AES encryption. The command and control capability supports a secure enclave, mission-based security model that allows public safety agencies to share information with each other for the duration of an incident.

“There’s a lot of things that this gives us that we wouldn’t have,” Levine said. “This gives us military-grade encryption, military-grade blue force tracking, military grade command and control. This is something beyond the reach of most law enforcement,” he said.


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