8: Enhancing Technology's Use in Addressing Crime

As criminals become more sophisticated in their use of advanced technology to perpetrate crime, criminal justice professionals must have equally sophisticated tools to prevent, investigate, and prosecute those crimes, to better track and manage offenders, and to protect the public.

OJP supports development of technology for direct use by front-line law enforcement and corrections personnel, as well as technology that improves the justice system as a whole. Of particular importance are initiatives to improve the use of DNA evidence and stop cybercrime.

IMPROVING THE USE OF DNA EVIDENCE

DNA evidence was first introduced into criminal court proceedings in 1988, and now every state in the nation allows the introduction of this kind of evidence by statute or court rule. While extremely useful as an investigative tool with the potential to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent, DNA evidence also raises a host of issues involving the use of DNA in post-conviction cases, the use of technology to extract and store DNA information, and privacy concerns.

To examine the critical policy issues surrounding DNA evidence, the Attorney General directed NIJ to form the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. This independent panel composed of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, technology experts, and others, is charged with reviewing critical policy issues regarding DNA evidence and recommending courses of action to improve its use as a tool of investigation and adjudication in criminal cases. The Commission is addressing five specific areas:

In September 1999, NIJ released two publications arising from the work of the Commission. Postconviction DNA Testing: Recommendations for Handling Requests provides guidelines to determine which situations warrant DNA testing or retesting and those in which the use of DNA technologies would be of no value in assessing actual innocence. What Every Law Enforcement Officer Should Know About DNA Evidence gives suggestions for preserving DNA evidence at crime scenes, and is being distributed to every law enforcement officer in the country.

States are now permitting the testing of DNA samples of different categories of convicted offenders to support a national database so that the power of DNA can be harnessed to solve more crimes. The creation of a national database has created a backlog of a half million DNA samples of convicted offenders that have not been analyzed and entered into the database.

Through its Forensic DNA Laboratory Improvement Program, NIJ is helping government crime labs to conduct state-of-the-art DNA testing to support the investigation and adjudication of violent crime. The program funds procurement of updated equipment, supplies, laboratory modifications, and training for laboratory analysts.

NIJ is also supporting development of technology that will make DNA analysis a routine, inexpensive, and highly flexible crime-solving tool. Over the past four years, NIJ has undertaken a DNA research initiative with three ambitious goals: to make DNA tests affordable, timely, and portable. In 1999, NIJ unveiled the DNA chip, a new process that will allow on-scene DNA screening by law enforcement to determine who was at a crime scene. The chip technology is currently being used to identify people at risk for such diseases as breast cancer and cystic fibrosis. NIJ determined the same device has criminal justice applications that will enable law enforcement to use DNA information at the scene of the crime, rather than wait weeks for analysis in a distant lab. The chip, which costs between $10 and $15, can be brought to a crime scene. The on-scene evidence would be inserted into one end and then the chip placed in a small computer mounted within a police patrol vehicle. The computer will uplink that information to a national criminal justice database and search the DNA profile identified on the chip. The goal is to have the chip available to law enforcement within two years.

ENHANCING CRIMINAL RECORDS AND IDENTIFICATION

Background checks for gun purchasers depend upon accurate and timely information about criminal histories. For the past five years, BJS' National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) program has been funding improvements in criminal history record keeping, which makes systems like instant background checks for gun purchasers possible. In FY 1999, BJS awarded a total of $38 million to 50 states and territories to continue their improvement of criminal history records. The grants fund the modernization and automation of criminal history records used in the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System, National Sex Offender Registry, and registries of domestic violence orders. The grants also fund technology such as automated fingerprint identification systems and computerized mug shots and booking systems.

In FY 1999, BJA awarded grants totaling about $9 million to all 50 states under the State Identification Systems (SIS) formula grant program. SIS is a collaborative effort between BJA and the FBI to help states integrate their information systems with the FBI's national identification databases.

DEVELOPING NEW TOOLS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT

NIJ's network of National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Centers identify new technologies, test equipment, and disseminate information to help law enforcement and corrections personnel do their jobs safely, efficiently, and effectively.

NIJ also develops minimum performance standards for equipment and technology and also supports testing products against those standards. Testing and research have led to performance standards for more than 60 types of criminal justice equipment, ranging from soft body armor and handcuffs to patrol cars and communications systems. NIJ does not recommend particular brands; it distributes lists of products that have passed standardized tests and indicates each item's strength, endurance, and performance. NIJ's primary partner in standards development and product testing is the Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Recent projects include:

An example of technology being developed for law enforcement officers is the less-than-lethal program. This program is designed to create options for law enforcement officers to employ safer, less severe applications of force. Such options enable officers to better match the amount of force needed to overcome a given level of resistance or threat in contrast to perhaps being compelled, in the absence of those new options, to choose between using too little or too much force. Technologies currently under development or evaluation are electrical devices, chemicals, lights, nets, and interdiction devices.

In May 1999, NIJ hosted the third annual mock prison riot, which showcased emerging corrections technologies. The training exercise offered corrections personnel the opportunity to utilize the latest technology in a real prison environment in order to prepare for emergency situations. More than 1,100 corrections professionals and technology vendors from 35 states, the District of Columbia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Colombia participated. Approximately 60 corrections technologies ranging from drug and explosives detection to infrared night vision devices were on hand for demonstration and use.

SHARING INFORMATION

In today's fast-moving, mobile, and fluid environment there are many occasions when more than one law enforcement agency may be involved in a case or situation. Police units from multiple departments engaging in a joint operation, such as a high-speed pursuit, frequently cannot communicate with one another directly as events are unfolding. This inability may result from use of different radio frequencies, varying and proprietary protocols or system architectures that are incompatible, outdated equipment, or operational restraints.

NIJ is addressing interoperability problems through its AGILE program (Advanced Generation of Interoperability for Law Enforcement). AGILE consists of four principal components:

Other information sharing activities are no-less important even though they are not as time-sensitive. The Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) is a multijurisdictional criminal intelligence system operated by and for state and local law enforcement agencies. The program comprises six regional sites, which act as hubs for the member agencies that use RISS. In FY 1999, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) awarded approximately $20 million to these regional intelligence centers to help federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies share information vital to fighting crime that spans across jurisdictional boundaries. These grants enable RISS participants to purchase equipment and hire personnel to develop and maintain a secure Intranet to access and share criminal intelligence and information on a real-time basis.

In addition to building interoperability and communications into law enforcement, OJP is also sponsoring integration of the justice system information as a whole. The OJP Justice Integration Initiative seeks to improve communication and information sharing among justice agencies at all levels of government, federal, state, and local, and across all disciplines with the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Because of its involvement in multiple parts of state and local justice systems, OJP has an unparalleled opportunity, through the coordinated and targeted use of grant funds, to form partnerships with state, local, and tribal governments to help them support integrated criminal justice information systems. Based on input from the field, in 1999, OJP convened a series of task force meetings, symposia, and workshops to further the discussion on integrated justice information systems. In addition to hosting the meetings, OJP staff were featured as speakers at over 18 national events and participated in over 65 site visits directly relating to integrated justice information systems in state and local jurisdictions.

FIGHTING CYBERCRIME

Explosive growth in Internet commerce, e-mail, and electronic networks have expanded the capabilities of criminals to commit crime. Hackers have proven themselves capable of major disruptions of electronic businesses and of inflicting considerable financial losses. Online pedophiles and stalkers prey on youngsters in chat rooms. White collar criminals are adept at electronic money laundering. Electronic developments are changing the face of crime. Investigators in every type of law enforcement agency in the nation are now confronted with electronic evidence that demands a high order of technical knowledge and skill.

Computer forensic science is the process of extracting information and data from computer storage media and guaranteeing its accuracy and reliability. Like traditional crime investigation, cyberforensics involves gathering an assortment of physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, and determining suspects - but it also involves a knowledge of software options and computer media.

In FY 1999, NIJ conducted a comprehensive assessment of the needs of state and local law enforcement officers with regard to electronic crime. As a result of the assessment, NIJ began development of several guides for use by law enforcement agency personnel in investigating and prosecuting electronic crime. Best Practices for Seizing Electronic Evidence was created in association with the Secret Service and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The document, based on information from a large working group of criminal justice officials and electronic crime experts, is designed to help crime scene investigators develop a basic understanding of key technical and legal factors regarding the search and seizure of electronic storage devices and media.

OJJDP's Internet Crimes Against Children program seeks to protect children against cyberpredators. Online child exploitation presents complex technical and investigative challenges for law enforcement. Because few crime investigations begin and end in the same jurisdiction, investigations require close coordination among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. In addition, evidence collection, interviewing practices and undercover operations must be carefully adapted to meet the technical and legal demands of Internet crimes.

The ICAC program encourages communities to develop regional, multi-jurisdictional and multi-agency responses to Internet crimes. In FY 1999, OJJDP awarded nearly $3 million for 10 state and local law enforcement task forces, bringing to 20 the number of ICAC initiatives nationwide. OJJDP also awarded $1.8 million in continuation funding to the 10 original task forces funded in FY 1998. Grant funds are used to ensure that investigators receive specialized training in Internet crimes, and are equipped with the most up-to-date computer technology. The task forces developed as part of the ICAC program are also designed to become sources of prevention, education, and investigative experience to provide technical assistance to parents, teachers, law enforcement, and other professionals.

The 10 original ICAC grantees' collective efforts have led to the arrest of more than 100 people who were using the Internet to sexually exploit children. The grantees have also trained more than 500 law enforcement officers and prosecutors. In Virginia, the Bedford County Sheriff's Office created the "Safe Surfin" education program, which features an animated character named Surge the Protector, to teach children about safe Internet practices. In New Hampshire, the Portsmouth Police Department developed a video and discussion handbook to help police officers conduct Internet awareness programs for parents and children.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, funded by OJJDP, also played a critical role in making the electronic world of cyberspace a safer place for children. More than 700 law enforcement personnel, ranging from executives to frontline personnel, participated in courses on protecting children online. More than 8,500 leads were received by the CyberTipline, established as a place to report suspicious online activity to authorities. Some of these leads resulted in the arrest of individuals using the Internet to identify children for sexual molestation, while others led to the recovery of children enticed from home by sex offenders.

ADOPTING NEW TECHNOLOGY

OJP is working to further automate its own administrative and grant making processes so that practitioners in the field can obtain federal assistance simply and efficiently. The Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) was OJP's first Internet-only funding application process. Its development represented a unique public-private partnership including several OJP agencies, the NASA, the U.S. Census Bureau, and REI Systems, Incorporated. The BVP Web site became operational in April 1999 and garnered the prestigious 1999 Intergovernmental Open Systems Solutions Gold Award from the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils. The Bulletproof Vest Partnership, described fully in Chapter 9, provides funding to localities and state agencies to purchase bullet-resistant vests for their officers. All transactions between OJP and the applicants occur over the Internet, representing a major technological innovation. For those departments without Internet access, OJP established a technical assistance center at the University of Arkansas to assist them with submitting their applications.

In FY 1999, OJP also made progress in automating other grant systems. BJA's Local Law Enforcement Block Grants program moved its application and payment process to an online system, and OJP's program offices began to use an online Grants Management System to process applications. In FY 1999, potential grantees could choose to apply for OJP funding via the OJP Web site, although submission of hardcopy proposals was still acceptable. OJP is moving to a completely paper-free application and award process for some programs, and hopes to move all grant making completely online within the next year.

Back to OJP FY 99 Annual Report