Law Enforcers Around Nation's Capital Start Sharing Data

Wireless network integrates law-enforcement databases in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to help emergency responders.
Law-enforcement groups in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia last week began sharing law-enforcement data via the Capital Integrated Wireless Network. Launched early this summer, the federally funded CapWin system to date had given law enforcers wireless access to their own data. Previous attempts at integrating data from different jurisdictions were hampered by incompatible wireless networks and data-transfer protocols and departmental policies that prohibited data sharing because of fear regarding a lack of data security.

Now, with Web-based access, federal, state, and local agencies participating in the program can use desktop PCs or wireless laptops to log on to a secure VPN to retrieve data. Maryland and Virginia police this month will test access to the network over PocketPC-based PDAs. By year's end, CapWin's developers at the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Transportation Technology plan to deliver an enhanced client interface using Web services. "A Web-services client will be able to detect when a connection is lost and will hold on to a query and resubmit when the connection is regained," senior systems architect Joe Kemp says.

The development team is working with the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine to integrate its Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders program with CapWin by early 2005. That database that can help identify hazardous materials and provide guidance on health impacts, possible responses, and other pertinent data.

The network will be expanded by next summer from 300 users in 20 local, state, and federal agencies in the capital region to 1,000 users across the country. The system was designed to handle 10,000 concurrent users.

"The heart and soul of this thing will be the global directory, which will function like a 411 for first responders," says Roddy Moscoso, CapWin's client relations and marketing manager. CapWin will let state and local law enforcement tap into computer-assisted dispatch systems across multiple jurisdictions, which will alert users to crimes and suspicious activity in neighboring areas. Users will also be able use instant messaging and chat rooms to circumvent incompatible radio systems.

CapWin's developers plan to work with IBM to make as much of the code available via the open-source community, a move they hope will spur adoption among as many law-enforcement and emergency-responder groups as possible, Kemp says. "Making the software open source will also provide users with additional programming resources through cooperative development."

U.S. Park Police, part of the Department of Interior, has been using the network since June, accessing it from a few ruggedized laptops to support daily operations and major events, such as the Fourth of July fireworks on the national mall. CapWin access will be expanded to 26 mobile PCs in patrol cars, and the department's 150 officers will be trained on the system as quickly as he can make it happen, says Lt. David Mulholland, Park Police commander of IT and communications. "We would love to see it rolled out completely in the next six months."

Virginia's Department of Transportation will use the network to report accidents and debris spills on the state's roads, which in the northern part of the state connect Maryland and the District of Columbia. Each incident is recorded in a departmental database via a wireless laptop. Since June, the Transportation Department also has been notifying law enforcement of any relevant data via CapWin.

"We don't all have to be on the same communications infrastructure," says Chris Landis, assistant operations manager with the Virginia Department of Transportation. "As long as we have the CapWin interface, we can feed information into the system." The department, whose radios are incompatible with those of law enforcement, has seven laptops equipped to use CapWin and is planning to add more.

While the Transportation Department doesn't have the authority to retrieve data from law-enforcement databases, they play an important role in alerting police to suspicious activity. "We have as many people on the road as law enforcement," Landis says. "It gives them an extra set of eyes and ears."

CapWin is governed by an executive leadership group made up of representatives from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and federal agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Transportation.

Through the end of 2007, CapWin access will be free for all emergency responders interested in participating. After that, Moscoso says, the program will have to sustain itself through membership fees.

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