Law Enforcement Dons Wearable Computer System

The Energy Department is developing a wearable computer system that will give crime-scene investigators access to such applications as electronic mapping and to remote databases that could help them solve crimes faster and more easily.

DOE developed the idea for the system--now called the Team Leader project--about three years ago to collect information digitally in the field when inspecting peace-treaty sites, such as foreign weapons depots. DOE also wanted to have instant access to electronic information, such as historical photos and records, which may be stored in DOE's vast databases.

But as the department worked on a prototype system, members of the law enforcement community learned of the project and saw the potential for using the system to investigate crime scenes. "That's when people said all of a sudden, 'This is a great technology that can be used for a myriad of other applications,' " said Daniel Irwin, a research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and program manager for Team Leader.

This spring DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory signed an research and development agreement with Mnemonic Systems Inc. (MSI), Washington, D.C., to help create the experimental system, which other agencies may find useful, Irwin said. "One could come and say this system is great for environmental applications," he said.

Law enforcement officials scattered among multiple crime sites could use the system to communicate wirelessly. From a central site, the director of a crime scene field team could communicate with investigators clad with a head-mounted video camera, a digital still camera, a wrist-mounted keyboard, a laser for taking precise measurements, a satellite-based Global Positioning System and core hardware and software tucked away in a vest.

Investigators in the field could send information, such as video images, to the director via wireless modems, and the director could make suggestions on what to look for at the crime scene. The director also could transmit information, such as aerial imagery or crime reports, to the investigators in the field.

"Right now, there is no real means of doing collaborative processing of a crime scene with the experts that are in the field," said Pete Parnian, director of technology at MSI. The Team Leader vision could reduce workloads on law enforcement agencies because fewer people would be needed to investigate a crime scene, and agencies would spend less time chasing information or recording information, Irwin said.

Investigators also will be able to use geographic information system (GIS) applications to reconstruct crime scenes by recording the exact locations of evidence. Investigators could create an electronic crime-scene map to study in an attempt to determine what happened during the crime.

Under the R& D agreement, DOE and MSI officials are working to put together a second Team Leader prototype by the end of the year. The system will be tested--along with other systems, such as pen-based computers and rugged laptops--at police departments in Baltimore, Los Angeles and Miami, Irwin said. DOE will use the feedback it receives from the police departments in those cities to adjust the system.

Team Leader "kind of looks intriguing," said Barry Fisher, director of the crime laboratory at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, one of the three agencies that will test the system. "It is one of these paradigm shifts that enables you to take some high-technology computer and communications gear and try it out in an area that has traditionally been very manpower-intensive."Fisher said his agency has just begun testing such computer technology as laptops and GIS in the field. "Our problem is that the learning curve of this technology is pretty steep, and just trying to keep on top of the cases we have right now and getting people up to speed on [technology] is a bit of a problem," he said.

If DOE and MSI can sell Team Leader to other agencies, a standard for recording crime-scene evidence may evolve, making it possible for law enforcement agencies to share data and evidence, Irwin and Parnian said.

Currently, law enforcement agencies have different procedures for investigating crime scenes. The Team Leader system, however, might include voice recordings--a narrator of sorts--that would walk investigators through the steps of documenting a crime scene and collecting evidence. "We knew of a need for standards and for crime-scene processing," Parnian said. "Processing crime scenes is not quite standard across laboratories and across regions. And the process of gathering evidence also is not a standard process."

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