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Safety Nets: Protecting Lives and Property in the Information Age

October 16, 1998

Safety Nets is the third in a series of reports from NTIA tracking the impact of telecommunications and information technology on Americans today. Safety Nets describes how new technologies are changing the face of public safety. Of all professions, the public safety sector requires fast and accurate communication.

Safety Nets: Protecting Lives and Property
in the Information Age

The Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program
United States Department of Commerce




William M. Daley

National Telecommunications and Information Administration


Larry Irving Bernadette McGuire-Rivera Stephen J. Downs
Assistant Secretary
Communications and Information
Associate Administrator
Office of Telecommunications and
Information Applications
Telecommunications and Information
Infrastructure Assistance Program


- September, 1998 -


Part One: Technological Strategies for Managing Emergencies
1. New Appproaches to Fighting Urban Fires
2. Managing Fires in a Rural Setting
3. Getting Ahead of Weather Emergencies
Part Two:Information Technology and Law Enforcement
1. Keeping Up with a Mobile Population
2. Making Police Work More Efficient
3. Preserving Confidentiality
4. Bringing Agencies Together
Part Three: Using Networks to Prevent Crime
1. Bring Social Services to Juvenile Offenders
2. Detecting Social Problems Before It's Too Late
3. Community Networks, Community Policing

Appendix I: Linking Emergency Personnel to the Information Infrastructure
Appendix II: A New Tool in Police Arsenals
Appendix III: Projects Featured in this Report
Appendix IV: Charlotte's Web Director Steve Snow Ponders Lessons Learned




It is my pleasure to introduce Safety Nets: Protecting Lives and Property in the Information Age. The report underscores the Clinton Administration’s commitment to bringing the benefits of information technology to the public safety sector. Safety Nets is the third in a series of reports from the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) tracking the impact of telecommunications and information technology on Americans today. The Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) has funded projects that use new technologies to assist communities. Among other things, TIIAP grantees have reinvented how people learn, how patients can obtain medical treatment, how law enforcement officers can protect streets, and how communities can share information.

Safety Nets describes how new technologies are changing the face of public safety. Of all professions, the public safety sector requires fast and accurate communication. A police officer may need immediate information on a suspect. A firefighter may need to know the location of fire extinguishers in a burning building. Technological innovation is, therefore, exceptionally helpful to public safety officers.

At a time when public safety resources are scarce, these technologies can enhance existing law enforcement efforts. Ideally, we would like to have more police officers on the street and more emergency services personnel. In the absence of additional financial resources for more personnel, training, and equipment, the pressures on existing public safety officers will be extreme. In the meantime, new technologies can help them perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

As Safety Nets illustrates, there are real and immediate benefits resulting from the use of information technology in public safety. The investment in time-saving technologies not only helps an officer perform his or her job duties, it can also result in the saving of life and property. The report describes how one TIIAP grantee uses computer technology to direct fire fighters to the scene of an emergency by the fastest route. Computerized mapping helps another grantee track authorized fires and wildfires and determine how quickly both will spread. Another project uses computer networks to enable police departments to search each others’ databases for leads on suspects. These projects, and others, all have immediate and dramatic payoffs. With the aid of new technologies, public safety officers can save more lives and property and help communities feel more protected.

This report is one of many ways that TIIAP is sharing the stories and the lessons that are being learned by the recipients of TIIAP awards.

Additional information on the program and the projects is available from the TIIAP office and on the NTIA web site at:

Please share with us your reactions to this report:

1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Room 4092
Washington, DC 20230
fax: (202) 501-5136


Larry Irving
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information

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The technologies of the Information Age are fundamentally transforming the way Americans work and play. From sophisticated new techniques for managing factory inventories to the emergence of the Internet as a source of information for millions of households, we see all around us numerous ways that computers and advanced telecommunications are changing our lives.

Less noticed, perhaps, are a very important series of projects that seek to use these same tools to enhance public safety. In cities and rural areas all around the country, officials are using information technologies to improve the way we fight fires, cope with severe storms, and combat crime. It is an enormous undertaking, requiring massive data-collection efforts, new software tools to sort and analyze information, and countless hours of work to overcome technical challenges.

Information projects in the public-safety field also raise significant legal and ethical issues, involving, in particular, the need to maintain confidentiality and protect privacy. And last, but not least, they face difficult human and organizational obstacles. Efforts by diverse agencies to share information inevitably raise conflicts over jurisdiction, institutional prerogatives and individual responsibilities. Invariably, finding solutions requires hard work and patience.

This report describes a handful of TIIAP-supported projects that are seeking to use information technologies to promote public safety. The projects cited here are all works in progress. In some cases, officials are just starting the arduous process of turning their aspirations into reality. In others, sponsors are beginning to move from the development stage to actual field operations. In still others, some results are starting to come in.

In every case, the spread of the information revolution to the public safety arena holds great promise. When the final chapters are written, there is every reason to believe they will show that today’s efforts are making tomorrow’s world a safer place.

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Technological Strategies for Managing Emergencies

Imagine fire trucks that automatically tell their drivers the quickest route to the scene of a fire. Or computers that predict how wildfires will behave based on the type of soil, vegetation and weather conditions where they are occurring. Or communications networks that give emergency preparedness officials precious minutes of advance warning when tornadoes or severe thunderstorms are about to strike.

All of these seemingly futuristic possibilities are becoming reality as Americans harness the tools of the Information Age to improve our ability to respond to emergencies. It is no easy task, though. Whether grappling with complicated new technologies, adapting older ones to challenging new environments, or collecting enormous amounts of new data, public-safety officials are finding that the effort takes substantial time and energy. But in an arena where shaving minutes, or even seconds, from response times can spell the difference between relatively minor losses and disastrous ones, improving our ability to get the right information into the hands of emergency personnel at the right time could produce big savings, both in lives and property.

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A New Approach to Fighting Urban Fires

Some of the most promising efforts to use information technologies involve fire fighting. Nationwide, fire departments respond to almost two million fires a year — one every 16 seconds, according to a survey by the National Fire Protection Association. In 1996, fires killed more than 5,000 people, injured more than 112,000 and destroyed more than $9.4 billion in property.

The Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Fire Department has launched an ambitious effort, backed by TIIAP, to reduce that toll by improving the quality and timeliness of information available to firefighters. The Department's Integrated Network Fire Operations, or NFO, project will feature computers mounted in each city fire truck that will display maps showing the fastest route to the scene of an emergency, as well as schematic drawings of the building or buildings where the emergency is occurring.

Mobile computers are nothing new in the public safety arena. The Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC) in Murray, Utah, to cite just one example, has installed laptop computers in police cars to connect officers to police databases. The center can point to a sharp increase in stolen vehicle recoveries and to savings in central-office costs. The VECC project was profiled in a 1997 TIIAP publication, Networks for People: TIIAP at Work. (See Appendix I)

But mobile computers must meet especially rigorous conditions to be useful in firefighting conditions. First, they have to withstand the special rigors of riding in fire trucks: dust, heat, cold, and strong vibration. In addition, while most mobile computers have low storage capacity and operate rather slowly, Winston-Salem's will be able to hold large amounts of graphics-intensive information and deliver it to firefighters almost instantaneously. For instance, they will be able to show drivers the quickest route to the scene of an emergency anywhere in the city as soon as the trucks start to roll (typically within 20 seconds of the time an alarm is sounded). They also will give crews time to review and digest pertinent information, including drawings of the buildings where emergencies are occurring, within the four minutes or less it typically takes fire trucks to arrive at the scene.

Computers, of course, are only as good as the information that goes into them. The Winston-Salem Fire Department produced an extensive database to support its effort.

First, it contracted with the Institute for Transportation, Research and Education at North Carolina State University, whose staff drove more than 1,000 miles of city streets, recording the exact location and capacity of fire hydrants, speed limits, and other traffic rules, overpass elevations, and the whereabouts of nursing homes or schools that could delay emergency vehicles racing to a fire.

Collecting such data — and keeping it current — can be an expensive and time-consuming process, but city officials believe the effort will pay off. "There are many side benefits to the city," notes Dennis Newman, the city's Director of Information Services. Data from the so-called "street center line file" can be used to plan new bus routes, lay new water and sewer pipes, and manage emergency snow-plowing situations, among other things, he says.

The Fire Department also developed software that can use this data to determine in just seconds the shortest route from any fire station to any address in the city. The software does not simply plot the most direct route to a fire. It takes into account such factors as speed limits, the location of schools, and even temporary traffic obstructions such as scheduled road maintenance or construction to calculate the fastest way to get there.

In addition, the department compiled drawings of some 2,000 buildings that firefighters will be able to study on their way to emergencies. Traditionally, officials have made such drawings by hand during routine "pre-fire" inspections, and kept them in notebooks carried on their trucks. But now, the Winston-Salem firefighters are doing their drawing by computer. Simply by pointing and clicking, they can produce computer images that show buildings' actual dimensions, as well as the location of interior rooms, sprinklers, emergency exits, and such other features as nearby railroad tracks, power lines, streams, and fences. All this information, asserts the software developer, can be drawn three or four times faster – and more accurately as well – on the computer than by hand.

Getting all this information into the mobile computers was another challenge. Radio frequencies cannot carry huge volumes of information fast enough to meet the needs of firefighters, so project managers decided to store the data on CD-ROMs. Currently, a single CD-ROM holds all the information fire officials compiled on the city that covers 106.5 square miles and has a population of 171,000 — and still has half its storage space to spare.

Because CD-ROMs are inexpensive to produce, the Fire Department will be able to issue new ones monthly, each time incorporating the latest information collected during new inspections and taking account of changes such as new traffic rules or temporary road closings. What's more, images stored on the CDs can easily be sent to every fire station in the city. Previously, drawings rarely were distributed beyond the closest stations, leaving firefighters who had to respond to fires beyond their immediate territory largely in the dark.

It took a lot of work to get the system ready to begin field operations this summer. "You can't underestimate the amount of resources needed for planning, coordination and project management," notes Newman. He stresses the need to work aggressively with vendors, clearly defining the scope of the work to be done and setting firm delivery dates. But delays are inevitable, especially when a project involves coordinating the work of multiple vendors – a point Carolyn Bailey, Fire Planning Officer for the Winston-Salem Fire Department, underscores. "If you think something is going to take you two hours, you'd better allow yourself eight hours," she says.

Still, Winston-Salem officials believe the effort will prove to be worthwhile. "Just as the motorized fire engine brought us into the twentieth century, the use of computer technology promises mind-boggling possibilities in the twenty-first century," says Otis Cooper, Chief of the Winston-Salem Fire Department.

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Managing Fires in a Rural Setting

While urban firefighters pursue their enemy with the sole purpose of putting them out quickly, fire has a whole different meaning — and it presents entirely different challenges — to foresters.

The Forestry Division of the Florida Department of Agriculture is responsible for battling wildfires, which burn almost 200,000 acres of Florida forests and other ecosystems like sawgrass marshes, a year. In the unusually dry spring and summer of 1998, more than 2,200 wildfires consumed around 500,000 acres in the state. When it is not fighting wildfires, the Division supervises and controls a much larger number of intentional, or "prescribed," fires designed to maintain the health and biological diversity of forests and marshes, reduce the supply of hazardous fuels that otherwise could feed disastrous wildfires, control disease, enhance wildlife habitat and prepare land for grazing and other agricultural uses. Each year, the State authorizes about 120,000 prescribed fires that burn between 2.5 million and 3 million acres.

Making sure that prescribed fires occur only when conditions are safe and that wild ones are contained is no small job, especially considering the vast area the Forestry Division must supervise; forests cover 16.5 million acres in Florida, or nearly 48 percent of the State's land area. But the stakes are high. Forestry and related activities add an estimated $8.8 billion a year to Florida's economy. And with almost 1,000 people migrating to Florida every day, the job of protecting population centers and smoke-sensitive areas such as highways represents a growing challenge.

In 1997, the Forestry Division set out to develop a computer system to help manage fires in the State's forests. Using databases compiled from sources such as the Census Bureau and U.S. Geological Survey satellite photos, as well as sophisticated fire, smoke-dispersion, and weather forecasting models, the system will present detailed computerized maps that will plot every authorized fire and wildfire in the State and project the likely spread of smoke from each.

With the system, officials will be able to determine whether a request for a burning permit can be safely approved for any given location on any particular day. A weather-forecasting model developed at Pennsylvania State University will project weather conditions for areas as small as 20 square kilometers, showing if smoke-sensitive areas might be affected.

At the same time, the computerized maps will help officials determine at a glance whether a fire is authorized or not. Based on overlays showing the type of vegetation and soil types at the scene of a blaze, as well as models suggesting how a fire will spread given up-to-the-moment weather conditions, officials will be able to determine exactly what kind of equipment should be sent to fight a wildfire. If wind conditions suggest a small fire might spread rapidly in a certain direction, for example, foresters can dispatch a larger firefighting force than they normally might send. Or if a blaze is occurring in a marshland, officials will know to send vehicles specially designed to operate in such environments.

Finally, all this information will be available to the public over the Internet, giving people access to high-quality weather forecasts and helping them determine for themselves whether a smoke plume they might see poses any threat.

The system had its "trial by fire" during the disastrous fires of 1998. According to Jim Brenner, Fire Management Administrator for the Forestry Division, firefighters, area commanders and the media all used the fire danger maps and the drought index maps to keep track of the fire and its causes. "Everyone pulled the maps off the Internet every day," Brenner said.

Like the Winston-Salem Fire Department, the Florida Forestry Division formed numerous partnerships to gather information needed to make the project work. Smoke-sensitive areas were identified using information from the Census Bureau, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Florida Department of Community Affairs. Detailed information on soil conditions at different locations came from the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service). The National Weather Service is providing data on weather conditions. And foresters developed a detailed inventory of tree and vegetation species by performing their own analysis of Global Positioning System satellite photos obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey.

While such a data-collection effort does not come cheap, officials believe the cost is reasonable considering the benefits. Brenner estimates that the State will save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by reducing the number of onsite inspections needed before burning permits are granted, and that the public will save an equal amount in reduced time spent waiting for authorizations. In addition, he says, computer-assisted dispatching could reduce the typical time required to suppress wildfires (now between 218 and 236 minutes) by 15 percent, producing additional savings.

These figures do not include any benefits to public safety and the safety of firefighters. Such savings, says Brenner, are "beyond measure."

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Getting Ahead of Weather Emergencies

In Oklahoma, weather is the crucial variable in many emergency situations. But while we have made great strides toward being able to predict severe weather conditions, vital information about impending weather emergencies often fails to reach the people who need it most urgently.

OK-FIRST (Oklahoma's First-response Information Resource System using Telecommunications) seeks to break this logjam in the information superhighway. With a 1996 grant from TIIAP, the Oklahoma Climatological Survey (OCS) set out to link 32 civil defense offices, 850 fire departments, and 700 law enforcement agencies to some of the most advanced weather information available anywhere. OCS provided computers and basic training in how to interpret the raw meteorological data, which is produced by the Department of Commerce's National Weather Service and a network of state radar stations known as Oklahoma Mesonet. The local agencies were connected to the Internet via OneNet, a communications network operated by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and from OLETS, the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunications System.

It is hard to imagine a place that would have a greater demand for such information than Oklahoma, which has more than its share of challenging weather. In the late winter and early spring, dry winds sweeping through the State from the Rocky Mountains can whip up fast-moving wildfires. In the summer months come powerful thunderstorms and tornadoes. Indeed, the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma, issues more severe storm warnings — over 1,000 a year — than any other weather service office in the country. The State's weather problems can continue right through the winter, when ice storms blanket the State, cutting off power and making roads extremely treacherous.

In the past, local emergency officials often received no warning of impending weather emergencies until shortly before the storms were upon them. But with OK-FIRST, they can watch radar images track storm systems as they occur, and receive data on rainfall, potential hail and flooding hazards, and current wind speed and direction as quickly as the figures are produced. They also can tap into a wealth of information on fire dangers — including indices showing the likely intensity of fires and how they might spread given wind speed and direction, humidity and temperature.

"It definitely has been an asset to our city," says Galen Kitsch, Director of Emergency Management and Emergency Communications for the City of Moore, Oklahoma. Previously, Kitsch depended on commercial broadcasters for weather reports, which often were not sufficiently timely or did not focus on his town. Now, Kitsch gets whatever information he needs, whenever he needs it. When the weather gets bad, he alerts public-works officials so they know when and where extra road crews might be needed. He also notifies officials whenever heavy rains threaten to place extra demands on the city's waste-water treatment facilities.

The biggest pay-off from OK-FIRST may come during the thunderstorms and tornado season. Terry Durborow, Emergency Management Director for the City of Miami, Oklahoma, says the system gives him a 30- or 40-minute head start when storms threaten his town. "I can make better preparations," he says. "That makes the difference between flying by the seat of your pants and being able to be on top of the situation."

OK-FIRST has not eliminated the need for human "spotters," who would go out in the field and report where storms were moving. But with radar images to guide them, public safety officials can deploy spotters exactly where they are needed. They also can warn spotters to get out of the way when storms start bearing down on them. In addition, local officials say OK-FIRST also helps them decide when not to call out spotters or order citizens to evacuate areas threatened by bad weather. That helps preserve good relations with spotters, who almost always are volunteers, and with families, who may resent being rousted from their homes unnecessarily.

Brent Young, Emergency Management Director for Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, demonstrated the potential of the new system one day last fall, when a powerful thunderstorm suddenly swelled over portions of his territory. Young watched detailed radar images on his computer that showed the storm swelling to the west. He soon received reports that the storm was dumping rain at a rate of six inches per hour. Young could tell from the storm's intensity and direction that a particular bridge in his jurisdiction soon would be threatened by rising water. So he alerted the county sheriff, who promptly put up barricades to ward off traffic. Several hours later, the 100-foot wood structure was washed downstream and crushed, but thanks to the timely precautions, nobody was hurt.

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Information Technology and Law Enforcement

In Minneapolis, police are looking for a suspect in an aggravated assault case, but they cannot find him at any of the addresses they have for him in their files. Normally, this might stall their efforts to track him down, but now they can turn to a powerful new weapon in their crime-fighting arsenal. In this hypothetical case, a computerized search of files maintained by neighboring police departments shows that the same suspect was arrested three months earlier in nearby Brooklyn Park, where he had been living with his girlfriend. Officers quickly drive to the woman's home, where they find the suspect and arrest him.

To Americans accustomed to watching television detectives easily solve exotic crimes week after week, this may not sound all that impressive. But for real police, it represents a giant leap forward. Around the country, there are some 17,000 separate and autonomous police departments, and until recently few of them had any efficient way to share investigative files, mug shots, and other records with each other. In Minneapolis and other cities, however, police and other law enforcement officials are starting to build computer networks that will enable them to exchange information in ways that promise to make entire communities safer from crime.

As with any information-technology projects, agencies attempting to create such law enforcement networks face formidable obstacles. The problem is not so much technology itself; though certainly complicated, the mechanics of computer networking are, by now, well understood. Rather, the biggest challenges involve persuading disparate law enforcement agencies to come together, and then persuading them to set aside individual agency interests long enough to hammer out ways to share information without compromising the confidentiality of police files.

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Keeping Up With a Mobile Population

Many police networking projects arose from a simple premise: while the law enforcement system is carved up into thousands of separate jurisdictions, crime knows no such boundaries. Criminals often move from address to address, and assume various identities. ften, they deliberately leave their own neighborhoods before committing crimes, knowing that this will make them harder to find.

In 1997, the State of Hawaii launched a new Juvenile Justice Information System to help police, prosecutors, family courts, and the State Office of Youth Services keep track of a highly mobile population of youthful offenders. As in many places, juvenile crime had been rising sharply; arrests involving minors increased more than 86 percent between 1980 and 1992. But authorities often found themselves lacking the information they needed to respond to particular cases.

In Hawaii, parents commonly send troubled youths to live with relatives on other islands in hopes this will get them away from bad influences. This strategy makes good sense from the parents' point of view, but it can hobble efforts of law enforcement agencies to help. Unaware that juveniles they have taken into custody have had previous encounters with the law in other jurisdictions, police might simply release them as if they were first-time offenders. This lack of knowledge could be harmful not only to society but to the youths themselves, who did not receive the stern treatment or social services their actual histories suggest they needed.

The Juvenile Justice Information System will consolidate records on youthful offenders, thereby enabling officials in 14 different agencies on four different islands to determine with a few keystrokes a child's criminal history. The system will provide information useful to police trying to deal with youths on the spot — showing, for instance, whether they have drug-abuse problems, use firearms or pose a suicide risk. It also will help authorities decide how best to handle cases after juveniles are arrested – by showing whether the minors have participated in social service and treatment programs, for example.

Of course, the authorities previously could seek out such information by telephoning their counterparts in other jurisdictions. But gathering all the needed information can be very difficult and time consuming. In Minneapolis, for instance, investigators seeking information about a suspect might have to telephone as many as 90 separate police departments. And even then, the contacts may be unsuccessful. For each call, the officers would have to find someone at the other end of the line who has time to help them and is both willing and able to search for the information they need.

"It's like searching for a needle in a haystack," says Paul Przybilla, Police Support Services Manager for the Police Department in the Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove, Minnesota. When emergencies arise or workloads mount, police understandably let relatively minor offenses fall by the wayside. That is unfortunate, according to Przybilla, because such "ankle-biting crimes," if unsolved, often lead to more serious felonies. For example, peeping Toms, if undetected, may go on to become burglars or rapists, and shoplifters may start breaking into homes or even holding armed robberies, he says.

With help from TIIAP in 1997, Minneapolis and 10 other police departments in its region joined forces to launch the Multiple Jurisdiction Network Project, a computer network that will enable participating agencies to search each other's databases for leads on suspects. Already, there are signs it is working as intended. Since Maple Grove became connected to the network, the suburb's police department has received roughly 10 percent more information requests from neighboring law enforcement agencies, according to Przybilla.

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Making Police Work More Efficient

Besides giving law enforcement agencies access to more information, computer networks help them do their job much more efficiently.

Cal-Photo, a project of the California Department of Justice, is designed to help police agencies share one of the most basic information tools of police work – photographs. Whether used to identify suspects, confirm the identity of individuals who may be using fake ID's, or for any of numerous other reasons, photographs are almost as much a part of daily police work as a radio.

Until recently, though, finding and obtaining photographs from other jurisdictions was a tedious and frustrating process. Assuming a department looking for a photograph knew the suspect's name, it first had to request the photograph from a department that had it. The other department then had to retrieve the photograph, copy it and mail it. A 1995 survey by the department showed that this process took, on average, five to seven days. In 40 percent of the cases, it took even longer. When police are trying to decide whether to arrest a suspect or track down one on the run, that is too long.

Digital technologies, which a growing number of police departments are now using, have changed the picture. Besides being high in quality and easy to store, digital photos can be transmitted easily and inexpensively over computer networks. Cal-Photo will enable participating agencies, using California's private law enforcement network, to search a statewide database of criminal records, complete with pointers to associated photographs stored in the computers of police departments anywhere in the state. With this system, any participating agency will be able to obtain a high-quality photograph of an individual with a criminal history in just minutes. And if a suspect's name is not known, the system will allow searches of photo records based on such identifying data as scars, marks, tattoos, known accomplices, addresses, vehicles, and other data elements.

"This is one of the biggest changes and enhancements for law enforcement that we have ever seen," says Pamela Scanlon, Director of the Automated Regional Justice Information System, a records-sharing consortium of 32 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies located in San Diego County, California. Among other things, Scanlon says, the system will cut hours out of the time it normally takes to prepare photo line-ups to help witnesses identify suspects. Previously, she explains, detectives literally would have to go through piles of photos, sorting them by race and other characteristics, making sure they do not have any characteristics (such as different-colored backgrounds) that might unfairly prejudice witnesses, and selecting ones that fit a suspect's general description. With Cal-Photo, computers will be able to generate photographs of similar individuals in just minutes. And the pictures will be more standardized and more uniform in quality, making line-ups less susceptible to challenge in court.

Computer networks solve another major problem — how to store the vast amount of information held in police files. Several years ago, before digital imaging systems began to take hold, California officials explored the idea of warehousing crime photographs at the Department of Justice. That idea died quickly, however, when they calculated that the cost could total as much as $30 million, according to Dennis O'Connell, Cal-Photo's manager.

The total cost of the Cal-Photo project is just over $1 million. That is partly because images will continue to be kept in the individual departments that created them, so there will be no need for new storage facilities.

Other agencies outside of California have recognized the value of such dispersed storage. Within the past year, Utah's Valley Emergency Communications Center, which handles dispatching and record keeping for police in seven different political jurisdictions, stopped storing information for participating agencies on its own mainframe computer. Now, each department stores its own records, making them available to others over a computer network.

"Some of our files were getting so big that search times were excessive," explains Terry Ingram, VECC's Executive Director. "Now, we have smaller databases, but the information is still shared." (See Appendix I)

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Preserving Confidentiality

One of the biggest challenges for law enforcement networking projects is how to maintain the confidentiality of police files and criminal records. Concerns about confidentiality led the Hawaii Juvenile Justice System to keep its records on a mainframe computer. "You absolutely can't beat the security of a mainframe," says Eileen Madigan, the system coordinator.

The Hawaii project can afford that approach because, unlike some other jurisdictions, its information-storage needs are rather small. "We only have 20,000 juvenile arrests a year," Madigan notes. "That's a drop in the bucket. We could go 100 years before we'd have a problem with computer capacity."

Other law enforcement projects that have opted for the network approach have stressed different approaches to maintaining confidentiality. For one thing, these networks generally are designed as closed systems, using private communications links inaccessible to outsiders. VECC uses cellular telephone technology that has a sophisticated encryption system. What's more, individual departments generally build their own firewalls by allowing outside agencies to connect with servers that carry only the information the departments are willing to share, and not with their actual databases.

"Most law enforcement agencies are very concerned about security, and don't want to allow just anybody into their systems," says Sheri Hofer, Manager of the Information Support Services Section of the California Department of Justice Data Center. "The servers have a set number of records and no doors into [the Departments'] individual systems."

Security safeguards generally do not stop there. Many agencies also insist on maintaining direct human supervision over access to their files. While officers from departments participating in the Minneapolis project can conduct web searches to determine whether other law enforcement agencies have information on specific individuals, for instance, they cannot automatically retrieve the information. Instead, an officer discovering that a particular agency has information he or she needs must talk to the official responsible for the file, who then decides what information to release.

Such requirements not only prevent information from falling into untrustworthy hands, they also protect people whose names appear in police files. Concern about the danger of spreading misinformation about citizens significantly influenced the design of an information network operated by a consortium of police departments in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. The project, known as the Technology Utilization Pilot Project for Enhancing Resources (TUPPER), allows police officers from different departments to search each other's files for names of certain individuals. But after making a "hit," officers must email a request for the underlying files.

"What if we did an investigation and concluded that accusations against someone were bogus but hadn't yet written a final report?" asks George Els, who designed the system. "We wanted to have a human hand involved in judging what information to share." TUPPER is described in TIIAP's Networks for People. (Appendix II)

In addition, most states have training and auditing requirements to protect against misuse of police records. California, for example, requires every police officer to be trained on confidentiality issues every two years. For "full-service" operators who retrieve and update police records, the required training runs 16 hours; for officers who merely receive records, the training lasts four hours.

The State of California also maintains records indicating any time an official obtains criminal history information. Each law enforcement agency has a designated official who reviews queries to make sure they serve legitimate law enforcement needs. The State also audits every law enforcement agency every two years to make sure that their databases are accurate and up-to-date.

While such requirements vary from state to state, one thing is clear, as law enforcement agencies begin to share information more extensively, procedures for ensuring confidentiality and accuracy of those records will have to be scrutinized repeatedly.

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Bringing Agencies Together

Although the value of computer networking may seem obvious, officials involved in some of the efforts described here say turning the idea into a reality can be an arduous process. Jurisdictional conflicts, fear of centralization, and concerns about preserving confidentiality all stand in the way.

Getting past such obstacles requires that high-level officials participate directly in discussions aimed at working out cooperative arrangements among independent agencies. "We have seen stalemates and territorial conflicts at the worker-bee level," explains Eileen Madigan, Coordinator of Hawaii's Juvenile Justice Information System. "The top guys don't get involved in petty issues. When they say something is going to happen, it really is going to happen."

Reciprocity also is a key to success. "Our central, core philosophy is that to receive data, you must be willing to share data," says Lt. Dottie Veldey-Jones, who manages the Multiple Jurisdiction Network Project for the Minneapolis Police Department. Still, networking advocates must be willing to move slowly. "People are scared about haring information," says Lt. Veldey-Jones. "Many recognize that information is power, but not everybody understands that the power of information is released when it is shared."

Networking advocates got the ball rolling in Minneapolis by tying just one suburban police force in Crystal, Minnesota, into the Minneapolis Police Department's computer system. The small project impressed many police in the Minneapolis area. "I could get access to all their reports," marvels Debra Lien, office manager for the Crystal police. "When I went live with Minneapolis, people saw how valuable this was. People started asking me to look up things for them."

Still, when discussions began about expanding the network, a lot of roadblocks suddenly appeared, Lien recalls. Many suburban police officials worried that the Minneapolis Department was trying to take over. Others feared that untrustworthy police officers might get into their investigative files and provide inside information to criminal suspects. Prolonged discussions followed, and, in the end, Minneapolis and a group of surburban departments agreed on an arrangement that was far more limited than the original experiment with Crystal. Instead of entirely opening up their databases to each other, the departments agreed to share only names of suspects, and to allow their databases to be searched for names only using nine data elements.

But with time and experience, projects that start small can grow. Indeed, police in the Minneapolis area already have expanded the list of data elements they share to 16. The Munhall, Pennsylvania, project has grown from its original seven participants to 19, and now includes 18,000 arrest records, almost 6,000 mug shots, and more than 230,000 names of individuals who have had contact with police.

"You have to keep the scope [of an information-sharing project] very narrow and prove the concept first," says Pamela Scanlon from the San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Information System. "After that, the possibilities are endless."

Scanlon foresees the day when Cal-Photo will allow police to conduct ever more sophisticated searches for mug shots and also share crime-scene photos. Technology may bring new applications as well. In California, some police departments are experimenting with software that will produce composite sketches of criminal suspects. While there is some disagreement about whether the sketches are as good as those produced by artists, they have one advantage. Unlike artists' renderings, the digitized composites can be used in computerized searches of actual photographs held in police files.

Shortly after the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office acquired the system in 1997, officers ran a composite sketch of a suspected carjacker against thousands of digitized mug shots in the county's database. Almost immediately, they made what the Wall Street Journal described as a "near perfect" match. Police quickly tracked down the suspect, who confessed and was sentenced to five years in jail.

David Pecchia, the Police Chief for the Minneapolis suburb of Lino Lakes, Minnesota, sees information-sharing among police departments as part of a broader trend. Increasingly, he says, individuals and institutions throughout the public safety arena recognize that they can achieve far more by working together than they will ever accomplish working separately.

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Using Networks to Prevent Crime

"The old paradigm was that if there was a crime, it was the cops' problem, but the new paradigm says we have to get the community involved," Pecchia explains. "Cops can't do it alone. We have to share information with other agencies."

The advantages of sharing information go beyond police departments. Courts, social service providers, schools, and entire communities also are exploring ways they can pool their knowledge to help troubled individuals and increase public safety. Information technologies are playing an important role in facilitating their efforts.

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Bring Social Services to Juvenile Offenders

The Cook County, Illinois, juvenile court is building a computer network to link not only the institutions that make up the justice system, but hundreds of private social service agencies that can help youths who run afoul of the law.

The goal of this network is essentially the same as when the court, the nation's first juvenile court, was founded almost 100 years ago, to make sure that troubled youths get the treatment they need as quickly as possible. But that task has grown far more challenging. As recently as 1978, the court handled just 1,400 abuse and neglect cases. But, by 1997, its active caseload had grown to more than 60,000. And many of the cases have become far more complex than the court was accustomed to handling a decade or two earlier. In an alarming number of cases, court officials say, juveniles now enter the court system with long histories of family problems, drug abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and other problems. What is more, the court frequently encounters children with a combination of these problems, requiring the intervention of multiple social-service professionals.

Numerous institutions are ready to provide that help. About 300 private organizations currently provide services to children who are wards of the court, and officials believe as many as 700 additional organizations in Cook County and its surrounding area could help as well. The services range from mental health evaluations, family counseling, and therapeutic residential treatments, to mentoring, parenting classes, drug rehabilitation, and special education. Some agencies provide tutoring. Others help juveniles prepare for and find jobs. And still others provide emergency shelter or special intensive services such as counselling for sex offenders.

Matching the growing number of children going through the juvenile court system with the right service providers has become an increasingly difficult task. Probation officers, who handle some 8,000 delinquency cases, must leaf through various directories searching for service providers. The process can be rather haphazard. "A lot of probation officers rely on word of mouth [to find treatment programs]," says Michael McGowan, Director of Electronic Information Services for the Office of the Chief Judge. "Often they only know about options in their immediate vicinity."

Even after identifying programs that may be right for a particular youth, officers must spend countless hours on the telephone, contacting agencies, exploring whether the agencies really provide the appropriate kind of treatment, inquiring whether they have openings, and finding out their prices. As is always the case when doing business by telephone, officers frequently find themselves playing telephone tag, waiting to make the right connections.

Then the paper chase begins. Once a child is placed, probation officers must prepare case histories and transmit them to the service providers, collect diagnostic and treatment reports from them, and make sure that juveniles actually attend treatment programs. While necessary to help judges decide how to handle cases, paperwork requirements frequently lead to court delays, and they reduce the time probation officers otherwise would use to meet directly with juvenile offenders and their families. "Officers say all the paperwork gets in the way of actually dealing with the minors," says Michael Rohan, Director of Probation and Court Services.

With funding provided by a 1998 TIIAP grant, the court is creating an electronic directory of service providers in its area. Participating private agencies will update their own listings in the directory, providing the court up-to-date information on their treatment strategies, staffing and openings. After a placement is made, court authorities will use the network to transmit background records to the service providers, who in turn will use the network to report on attendance and treatment outcomes. Allen Nance, Deputy Chief Probation Officer, estimates this could cut in half the time probation officers must spend finding and placing juveniles in treatment programs. As a result, he says, the officials will be able to "develop more efficient case plans, work more closely with schools, and spend more time with the families."

The Children's Advocacy Network, as this new information project is known, is designed to complement the Juvenile Enterprise Management System (JEMS), an electronic records system the court began developing in 1995. Not surprisingly, security has been a particular concern for court officials, who have adopted a number of safeguards to protect the confidentiality of information. Every document exchanged through the JEMS system will have a custodian who will decide who else can see it. Private organizations and their staff will have access only to records that court officials agree to share with them and will have to undergo background checks and ongoing training. In addition, each outside organization will have to enter into an agreement with the court to ensure the confidentiality of all records.

Besides streamlining court procedures and shortening the time it takes to enroll troubled youths in appropriate treatment programs, the new system ultimately could have a profound effect on how society deals with delinquency. After a few years in operation, "we'll be able to analyze service providers and find out how various programs work," says McGowan. Are some more successful than others in reducing recidivism, improving school attendance, or cutting drug abuse? Do after-school programs work? Are programs geared to correct specific behaviors, such as car theft and drug abuse, effective?

This is one type of information the court does not intend to keep confidential. While specific cases will continue to be closely held, says McGowan, the court will share data on the overall effectiveness of programs with the provider community. In the long run, that may benefit troubled youth by shaping the various treatment programs designed to help them.

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Detecting Social Problems Before It's Too Late

Another project backed by TIIAP in 1998 is seeking to use information tools to develop an early-warning system for child-abuse cases.

An interagency group called the Lane County Public Safety Coordinating Council in Oregon is developing a computer network that will enable officials to put together the various threads of information that will help identify at-risk families before it is too late. Called the CHILD project (Capacity to Help Intervene Between Life and Death), the network will connect eight disparate computer systems that host data collected by approximately 30 different social agencies. Data from the agencies will be kept in a single, shared database and updated daily.

The premise is simple: if children and families who are at-risk often have contacts with numerous social service agencies. For example, child-protection agencies and police may receive abuse reports involving them. Teachers may voice concerns about children coming to school hungry, dirty, tired, or acting out. Mental health professionals may see families for problems relating to drug or alcohol abuse, or other problems. Family members may spend time in violence shelters.

But, because the separate agencies that deal with these issues generally act independently of each other, they may not realize the gravity of a particular family's situation. "In isolation, the facts are not enough for anyone to act," says Ray Broderick, Director of the Lane County Child Advocacy Center. "As a complete picture, it is a five-alarm fire. Odds are, the situation was preventable."

Broderick experienced this problem first-hand as a district attorney's investigator. After the death of a child, he says, investigators using subpoena powers would gather the disparate records on the child from various agencies. In retrospect, he says, such investigations show that "with access to all pertinent information, anyone would be able to see the potential for disaster."

This was brought painfully home for Lane County in June, 1997, when police found the battered body of three-year-old Tesslynn O'Cull of Springfield, Oregon, buried in a shallow grave. Records showed that police had visited Tessalynn's home just two weeks before her death to investigate reports of domestic violence. But finding no evidence of abuse, they never reported the incident. A deeper investigation would have revealed that the live-in boyfriend of Tessalyn's mother previously had lost custody of a daughter because of child-abuse allegations. Under Oregon law, that alone would have been sufficient to allow authorities to separate the girl from him. The boyfriend and Tessalyn's mother later were charged with murder in connection with the child's death.

In the Lane County project, each agency will have to determine exactly what information it can share. Schools, for instance, have been wary about violating students' confidentiality, but the Public Safety Coordinating Council (PSCC) officials believe they will be able to provide some helpful information without sharing details that invade privacy. In addition to working out details of what information will be shared, officials plan in the first year of the three-year project to construct a matrix that will help determine when a combination of separate and seemingly minor incidents, when put together, suggest the possibility of a more serious underlying problem. Identifying the risk factors themselves will be fairly straightforward, but knowing what mix of factors warrant a closer investigation will be trickier.

Next to resolving technology issues, confidentiality has been the biggest concern of the project's sponsors, according to Myra Wall, principal planner for the PSCC. The solution will be to hire a "gatekeeper," who will be the only person with access to confidential information in the pooled database. When the gatekeeper finds that a particular family fits the profile of a high-risk family, he will convene a multidisciplinary task force involving representatives of various agencies participating in the project. This team will explore ways to help the family avert a possible crisis.

Lane County has set ambitious project goals. It hopes to reduce the number of child abuse cases by 20 percent between 1994 and 2000, and to reduce the number of child fatalities from abuse by 50 percent.

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Community Networks, Community Policing

Most information technology projects in the field of public safety involve specialized applications designed to help professionals do their jobs better. Because of their complexity and the importance of preserving security and confidentiality, authorities carefully control and limit access to this information. But the broader public also has a role to play in making communities safer, too.

Charlotte's Web, a community network serving Charlotte, North Carolina, works closely with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department to build stronger ties between the public and police. Their efforts are part of a community policing movement that seeks to bring police and citizens together to resolve public safety problems before they reach the crisis stage. Instead of simply responding to emergencies, advocates say, police and citizens should address the conditions that can lead to crime – by cleaning up a run-down and abandoned building, for instance, or turning a vacant lot gone to seed into a playground, or fixing a broken street light, or going after a store that sells liquor to minors.

This approach to public safety requires police who are intimately familiar with the neighborhoods they serve and can exchange information readily with citizens. This is where Charlotte's Web comes in. One of its projects, the "Electronic Neighborhood," promotes computer networking in fragile neighborhoods by providing equipment and training to community leaders. Charlotte's Web Director Steve Snow says community police officers have become regular participants in the program, routinely sharing information with the communities. "Community policing is not just police on bikes," Snow explains. "It's about people cooperating to solve problems."

Snow sees another big opportunity now that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is starting to issue laptop computers to its officers. The laptops, he says, will give police a means to intervene positively in their communities. If a police officer answering a domestic-violence call sees that alcohol abuse lies behind a family's problems, for example, the officer will be able to connect to Charlotte's Web, find out about alcohol-treatment programs and counselling opportunities, print the information out and hand it to the family members on the spot. "It would take just five minutes and the whole transaction would turn out to be positive," Snow says. "The officer can intervene in a nonthreatening way, and the citizen can come away with a piece of information that will make a difference in his life."

Charlotte's Web also has teamed up with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the University of North Carolina's Carolinas Institute for Community Policing to create an electronic institute for community policing. The idea is to put the institute's community-policing curriculum online. This could prove invaluable to smaller, rural police departments that lack sufficient manpower to send officers to attend training sessions but could spare them for less time-consuming online courses.

The Institute specializes in using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools to fight crime. The GIS utilizes a computer-mapping technique that allows police to plot where crimes occur, seeking to uncover patterns and correlations with other variables such as street lighting or the location of establishments with liquor licenses. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have made extensive use of GIS technology to identify crime hotspots, to identify suspects in serial crimes, and to analyze underlying factors that cause crime.

Many communities are beginning to use GIS to make the logistics of urban life more manageable. Often seen as a way of making life more convenient, such efforts actually promote public safety, according to Snow. "When I look at GIS, community policing and problem-solving, I also see maps showing bus routes and the location of day-care centers, so that people can see where they can leave their kids conveniently when they have to go to work," he says. "This increases the chances of people getting work because it gives them options. That's community policing."

Moreover, he believes the city could use GIS technology as a source of training and jobs. "If I were the police department, I'd train people in the community to generate the data," he says. "This would create a better-trained workforce, provide summer jobs for kids, and create community-changing information." (For more information on community networking and Charlotte's Web, see Appendix IV)

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As the projects profiled in this report demonstrate, Americans are off to a good start in using information technologies to make our communities safer places to live.

But it is just a start. Impressive as these projects are, much work remains to be done. Many communities have only begun to define their needs and to explore how new technologies can be used to enhance public safety. Others, while farther along, still face formidable challenges.

In some cases, massive amounts of data still must be collected. In others, the capacity to sift, sort, analyze, and make sense of the data remains to be developed. And then there are the human obstacles. Many agree with the Minneapolis Police Department's Lt. Dottie Veldey-Jones, who says the human challenges are far greater than the technological ones. It is difficult to overestimate the months — sometimes years — of hard work required to assemble the diverse partners needed to launch complex information-technology projects and to coax them to set aside their own interests so that they can succeed.

Those who have started information-technology projects say the effort is worthwhile. Almost every day, they learn new lessons about themselves and their communities. What's more, they keep discovering new opportunities. In the Minneapolis area, for example, the police have been approached by some hospital officials to explore ways in which the medical community could contribute to a public safety information network. In Winston-Salem, city officials are exploring how officials responsible for planning water and sewer services can benefit from the data collected by the fire department. And in Florida, forestry officials say environmental agencies believe the system designed to monitor and predict smoke dispersion can be used in the battle against air pollution.

The projects described here, and others like them, are building a substantial body of experience on which others interested in using information technologies to enhance public safety, can draw. TIIAP looks forward in the months and years ahead to helping spread the collective wisdom emerging from these and other endeavors. If we show imagination, a willingness to set aside parochial interests, and flexibility, the possibilities appear to be limitless.

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Linking Emergency Personnel to the Information Infrastructure:
Valley Emergency Communications Center (Murray, Utah)

Move over, Dick Tracy. Tracy, the comic-book character, made the wrist phone famous, but police and other emergency personnel near Salt Lake City have an even more sophisticated communications system: they can connect with dispatchers and tap into vast databases from laptop computers right in their vehicles.

Their system was developed by Valley Emergency Communications Center in Murray City, Utah, about three miles south of Salt Lake City. VECC dispatches emergency services over a 120 square-mile area that spans seven political jurisdictions serving a population of about 566,000 people. It uses a communications technology known as Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) to give police, fire, and rescue personnel access via laptop computers to public safety databases for information ranging from vehicle registrations and drivers licenses to outstanding warrants and investigative reports. In effect, the officer on patrol has at his fingertips all the data that can be found in the computer back at headquarters.

Reducing Crime

Though relatively new, VECC received its TIIAP funding in 1996, the system already has produced impressive results: Recoveries of stolen vehicles have jumped 300 percent since the system was installed, according to Terry Ingram, VECC's Executive Director.

The reason is fairly simple. Previously, an officer who needed to check a license plate or some other information would have to radio the communications center, and then get switched to a "service channel," where a staffer could look up the information. At a busy time, such calls from the field could stack up at headquarters; officers would sometimes find themselves waiting in line to be helped. In many cases, officers were reluctant or unable to wait. Now, however, officers can retrieve the information themselves in just seconds. The process is so much easier that many officers routinely check more license plates than they ever did in the past and this has translated directly into more recovered vehicles.

Ingram says the system also is producing significant cost savings. In the last seven years, the number of calls between the dispatch center and police has climbed 90 percent. Normally, Ingram says, he would have to be installing more radio channels and hiring more dispatchers and central office staff to handle information requests from the field. But, despite the increase, the center has managed without increasing either.

Ingram also believes the system is cutting the time police have to spend doing paperwork. In some routine cases, reports can be filed automatically, using computer functions keys. But even if a more detailed report is required, officers often can type the information they need directly into the computer, rather than having to take notes in the field, give them to a clerk to type at headquarters, and then review them for accuracy.

Greater Public Safety at Affordable Costs

Ingram sees even bigger gains in the future. He says VECC plans to start using the system to dispatch officers and emergency vehicles. "Voiceless dispatch" should reduce administrative costs by automating many of the routine messages that flow back and forth between headquarters and the field. More important, it will increase the amount of information available to personnel in emergency situations. Because radio transmissions can easily be intercepted, police, fire and rescue departments currently limit how much information they broadcast. The CDPD system, however, allows much more extensive information-sharing because it has several levels of encryption that ensure security.

Ingram says VECC has managed to avoid the kind of technical problems that complex communications projects can entail by using the existing cellular telephone network, rather than creating its own system. Besides the cost of central servers, laptops (about $1,200 each) and CDPD modem-transmitters (priced at under $600 each), the department pays a cellular provider $50 a month per laptop connected to the system. "We lease the service, and they maintain and upgrade it," he says. Moreover, as competition increases in the communications business, cellular costs are coming down; in some places, Ingram says, connections can be made for as little as $35 a month. If that still seems expensive, Ingram notes, the alternative new radio towers, more channels and more central office staff is costly, too.

Police forces that participate in VECC are persuaded of its value. One participating department is developing scanners that will enable officers to check fingerprints from their laptops. Another wants to develop electronic mug shots.

Ingram believes cellular data communications will catch on among more police and emergency departments as the advantages are recognized. And that, in turn, could bring new benefits. Among other things, it should facilitate communication among departments scattered over a wider area. Currently, with some agencies using VHF and others using UHF frequencies, communications among different emergency agencies can be spotty. But a cellular system could allow seamless communications over wide areas a capability that could come in handy in natural disasters and other emergency situations.

For more information, contact:
Terry Ingram, Executive Director
(801) 265-4002


Reprinted from Networks for People: TIIAP at Work, TIIAP, 1995.

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TUPPER: A New Tool in Police Arsenals
Borough of Munhall, Pennsylvania

Crime knows no boundaries, but police forces do — a situation that lawbreakers regularly exploit by moving from jurisdiction to jurisdiction to escape authorities. Several police departments in the Pittsburgh area, however, are using one of the most basic tools of the information age — email — to fight back.

In 1995, the Borough of Munhall Police Department and six other municipal police forces in the South Hills area around Pittsburgh came together to establish a common computer network. Using TIIAP funds, the project, known as the Technology Utilization Pilot Project for Enhancing Resources (TUPPER), had three basic goals: to enable the roughly 230 officers in the various departments to communicate by email; to compile a single database detailing all the contacts the various departments had with various individuals; and to create a central mug-shot library that could be used to identify criminal suspects.

Faster Communication Solves Crimes Faster

That may not sound revolutionary. Private companies have been using computers for email and data collection for years. But it was a big step for the police forces. "Law enforcement is 30 years behind the business community when it comes to technology," says Darrel Parker, Chief of the Munhall Police Department.

Before adopting the TUPPER system, Parker says, most police departments in South Hills used pink "While You Were Out" message slips to notify officers of missed telephone calls. Because an officer in another department could work any of three shifts with an unpredictable pattern of days off, the simple task of communicating with a colleague in another department could take days of frustrating telephone tag.

Crime investigations were stymied in other ways, too. Many crimes are solved through informal information-sharing. Two police officers meeting for a cup of coffee may discover that they both have been dealing with a particular individual. One officer may have a long history of experience with somebody who has just shown up in the other's jurisdiction. Or, both policemen may discover correlations between seemingly unrelated incidents that could help solve some crimes. Often, for instance, a rash of car thefts in one area may relate to a series of break-ins elsewhere, as burglars often steal cars so that they can travel to areas away from their homes to avoid detection.

Important as such coffee klatches are, they have become increasingly difficult to arrange because of tight schedules and increased workloads. TUPPER allows such information-sharing on a much quicker and more comprehensive basis. Using software called The Informer, the TUPPER project has helped participating police forces create a "master name index" that includes dossiers describing any contacts they have had with particular individuals. The files, which are updated routinely as new information becomes available, provide useful background information. They even allow officers to add "special instructions" that can prove very helpful such as whether an individual is known to carry a gun.

According to Chief Parker, the TUPPER system has advantages over existing crime databases. The National Crime Information Center, for instance, details the criminal record of felons. But unlike TUPPER, it requires officers to know the exact name, date of birth, or Social Security number of their target. TUPPER, on the other hand, works even if officers only know a suspect's alias or have partial information.

Technology Aids Law Enforcement

An incident in Clairton, one of the participating municipalities, shows another advantage of the TUPPER system. One Saturday night in early 1997, a 14-month old sitting in a car was killed in the crossfire of a suspected gang battle. A witness identified the assailant. When police turned to Pennsylvania's state crime office, the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI), they were told that the network staff could not duplicate a mug shot for them until their office opened the following Monday. Because the suspect had a history of run-ins with police in nearby South Hills, however, the TUPPER system already had an electronic mug shot.

"Within an hour, the suspect's picture was in the hands of 300 police," Chief Parker says, reporting that the probable assailant was soon apprehended. "He had nowhere to hide."

TUPPER has attracted the attention of other members of the law enforcement community. The original seven participating departments have grown to 13.

For more information, contact:
Darrel Parker, Chief of Police
(412) 464-7300

By summer, 1998, there were 19 departments participating in the project.


Reprinted from Networks for People: TIIAP at Work, TIIAP, 1995.

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Projects Featured in this Report


City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Management Information Systems And Services Department

Project Start Date: October 1, 1996
Project End Date: June 30, 1998
Total Project Cost: $1,096,505
Federal Share: $499,988

Contact Person:

Mr. Dennis Newman
102 West Third Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Phone: (910) 727-2846

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Division of Forestry

Project Start Date: October 1, 1997
Project End Date: March 31, 1999
Total Project Cost: $607,483
Federal Share: $282,200

Contact Person:

Mr. Jim Brenner
3125 Conner Boulevard
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Phone: (904) 488-6111

University of Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Project Start Date: October 1, 1996
Total Project Cost: $1,691,397
Federal Share: $549,910

Contact Person:

Mr. Kenneth Crawford
1000 Asp Avenue
Norman, OK 73019
Phone: (405) 325-2541

City of Minneapolis
Minnesota, Police Department

Project Start Date: October 1, 1997
Project End Date: September 30, 1999
Total Project Cost: $528,326
Federal Share: $247,776

Contact Person:

Lt. Dotty Veldey-Jones
350 South 5th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55415
Phone (612) 673-3665

State of Hawaii
Office of the Attorney General

Project Start Date: October 15, 1995
Project End Date: December 31, 1997
Total Project Cost: $713,590
Federal Share: $221,600

Contact Person:

Ms. Eileen Madigan
425 Queen Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: (808) 586-1095

California Department of Justice
Division of Criminal Justice information Services

Project Start Date: October 1, 1996
Project End Date: October 31, 1998
Total Project Cost: $1,024,761
Federal Share: $400,000

Contact Person:

Ms. Sheri Hofer
4949 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95820
Phone (916) 227-3095

Lane Council of Governments
Eugene, Oregon, Public Safety Coordinating Council

Project Start Date: October 1, 1997
Project End Date: September 3, 2000
Total Project Cost: $792,095
Federal Share: $392,136

Contact Person:

Ms. Myra Wall
125 E 8th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401
Phone: (541) 682-7493

Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois
Office of the Chief Judge

Project Start Date: October 1, 1997
Total Project Cost: $1,340,152
Federal Share: $625,000

Contact Person:

Mr. Michael McGowan
2600 Richard J. Daley Center
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 443-4311

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Charlotte's Web Director Steve Snow Ponders Lessons Learned

By almost any measure, Charlotte's Web, the community network serving a growing region surrounding Charlotte, North Carolina, is a success. But Executive Director Steve Snow isn't satisfied.

"We have barely begun," says Snow. According to Snow, most people, even in Charlotte, aren't yet aware of community networking and its value to communities. In addition, the underlying computer technology is still too difficult to use. And the long-term financial security of networks like Charlotte's Web remains far from assured. "There's still a lot of work to do," Snow concludes.

Launched in 1993, Charlotte's Web received a $450,000 grant from TIIAP in 1994 to demonstrate the potential of networking technology to strengthen communities. It now boasts more than 200 public-access work stations in four counties, touch-screen kiosks in unsupervised locations, expanding rural dial-up access, unique "mini-hubs" that bring low-cost network connections to smaller communities and nonprofit organizations, and more than 10,000 citizen user accounts. Every day, users connect with it some 27,000 times, scouring its 8,000 web pages of local and regional information and requesting to download an average of 80,000 files.

For those who have actually visited Charlotte's Web, the heavy traffic is easy to understand. The network provides a richly textured image of Charlotte itself, with web pages on everything from the arts to politics. It offer members of the community a chance not only to gather information, but to use it — and to share information of their own with their community.

Job hunters, for instance, not only can scan classified ads, they can get tips on writing their own resumes and then post them for employers to see. Similarly, citizens can connect with area governments, but then participate directly in civic life by joining online discussions about pressing issues.

Yet Snow believes lack of public appreciation of the value of community networking is the single biggest threat to the future of projects like Charlotte's Web. "This is a big country, and there are lot of things vying for people's attention," says Snow. "We have got to come up with better ways to market the things we do."

Community networkers also must improve their skills at the art of collaboration, according to Snow. Charlotte's Web has brokered a number of successful partnerships, including the "Homeless Services Network," in which 15 nonprofit organizations and six government agencies coordinate client intake and referral; and a "Regional Police Information Network," in which a dozen law enforcement agencies in widely-scattered small communities compare notes, share tips, and engage in private online conversations.

There is no magic formula for making such collaborations occur, Snow says, but patience and modesty are prerequisites. "You have to listen real hard, and check your preconceived notions at the door," Snow says. The hardest part of network building is bringing — and keeping — people together, not dealing with technology, he adds.

Finally, Snow argues, community networkers must start devoting much more energy to figuring out how to sustain themselves over the long-run. That is a view strongly shared by TIIAP, which evaluates grant applications in part on the quality of their plans for sustainability.

Charlotte's Web came face to face with the issue of sustainability when it began preparing for life after its federal grant was concluded. The Mecklenburg County government, which had provided most of the matching funds for its federal grant, offered to cover its $300,000 annual budget. But in turn, government officials made it clear they expected to control the network. The ensuing battle pitted the county's insistence upon accountability to taxpayers against concerns by Snow and others about government control and censorship. Ultimately, Charlotte's Web and county government agreed to divorce, and the network emerged as a nonprofit that increasingly must rely on revenues earned by charging fees for its services.

Still, Snow insists there are no fixed rules about how community networks will sustain themselves – including what relationship they will have with government. "Every community is different," Snow says, "And every network will have a different relationship with government, nonprofits and Internet service providers. The important thing is to figure out early how to maximize whatever relationships there are."

Snow believes that 1998 may well determine whether Charlotte's Web finds the kind of community support necessary to ensure its long-term survival. But while the results are not yet in, he sounds like a man who expects to be around for some time to come. Indeed, he has a vision that community networks will grow to become focal points for meeting regional information needs, working with a wide range of public institutions to buy telecommunications infrastructure in bulk and collectively ensure its efficient utilization.

"I know it's not going to be easy," he says. "But I'm optimistic."

The best source of information about Charlotte's Web is the network's own website,

A group of practitioners, including Snow, have formed the Association for Community Networking to foster discussion concerning issues facing the community networking movement, and to help develop sustainable long-term funding and organizational models.


Reprinted from the April, 1998, issue of TIIAP Update, a newsletter published by the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program.

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The Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program wishes to thank Christopher Conte, principal writer of the report, staff contributors Wendy Lader, Judith Sparrow, Don Druker, and Phillip English of NTIA, and others who contributed to this report.

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