Police look to SWAT crime with wireless intranets

In response to growing threats involving a broad range of weapons, many high-tech policing tools were on display recently for the 14,000 law enforcement executives who recently attended the 108 th annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Toronto.

One solution designed to enable rapid communication during crisis situations was the Electronic Strategic Intervention Device (eSID), created by Montreal-based CGI. Developed on spec for the Los Angles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) at CGI’s Nashville, Tenn. offices, the eSID combines wireless handheld technology with encrypted digital video surveillance and a secure mobile intranet to increase situational awareness during an evolving policing incident.

Thirty to 60 days from now, field officers will be able to set up paperback book-sized, off-the-shelf digital cameras, boot the system, and three minutes later the video feed will go up to the Department’s intranet. Live pictures can then be accessed through a browser so a team commander or outside expert – such as a military bomb specialist or a biological science expert at a university – can see exactly what the deputies on the scene see, said Captain Sid Heal, commander of the LASD’s special enforcement bureau.

“Historically, we have talked on the phone or two-way radio, but as a layman, the deputy can’t necessarily tell what information on scene will be relevant to an expert. With this system we reduce the need to relate large amounts of verbal information and can develop a much more accurate shared mental model of the situation,” said Heal, an author and former U.S. Marine Corps officer who also wrote the concept paper that prompted the eSID’s development.

Powered by Microsoft .NET technology, the system is basically a rapid-deployment 802.11b network that uses intranet servers to capture the digital video information and offer it to clients using ISS on desktop or Pocket PC browsers, said Phil King, a Nashville-based CGI executive consultant and eSID architect.

The use of standard, inexpensive cameras and handhelds, was one of the LASD’s essential requirements, King said. That way, he explained, components lost or destroyed in the line of duty can be easily replaced at any electronics store, and the system can be re-deployed with as little downtime as possible.

Technology like the eSID that protects deputies without sacrificing information gathered through observation, and disseminates this information to multiple levels in the chain of command in real-time is part of LASD’s new “asymmetric strategy,” Heal explained.

“If [a fugitive] puts bars on his windows, instead of rippin’ ’em off, we arrest him when he gets his mail. Basically we attack him at a weakness – that’s what an asymmetric strategy does. So one of the first things we identified was that we needed to have the ability to do things we’d never done before; we needed the ability to see in the dark, we need the ability to see what other people were seeing, and we had to have a greater situational awareness.”

With respect to Canadian applications of this kind of technology, Cpl. Benoit Desjardins with the RCMP in Ottawa, said that as situations arise, the force has many people in-house working on very customized equipment that may not even be on the market yet. However, details about this technology are confidential.

“The line that the people have to understand is that it’s not in the interest of the public to know what equipment the RCMP is using to investigate, or do any kind of surveillance,” Desjardins said. “When [law-breakers] don’t know what we have it’s already an asset on our side.”

According to Heal, the LASD “really doesn’t have any [research and development] money because the local taxpayer will not tolerate us “playing” with his money, and that’s how [research] is perceived. But one of our prides is that if you bring us any technology, and have addressed three issues: funding, civil liability and human bio-effects – which CGI has, in this case – we can put it in the field in five working days.”

CGI mainly gains exposure and testing from this venture, not market share, Heal said. And, when it comes to new technology, his officers are ruthless critics who, like himself, have no interest in a system other that whether or not it saves lives, he added.

“We call ourselves the largest urban laboratory in the world. I’ve got six full-time SWAT teams, and we have over 200 high-risk operation a year. So it’s virtually impossible for us to go an entire week without having some major operation where I can incorporate this – not in a hypothetical situation, but in real life.”