Rand: Fed crime-fighting dollars paying off

Rand, the public-policy think tank, has issued a report suggesting that federal technology assistance for state and local crime fighters is paying off, although many opportunities exist for enhancing the relationship.

The report — available at www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1101/ — paints a picture of state and local governments operating under tight budgets in which 95 percent of dollars go toward personnel, with most of the remaining dollars paying for basic equipment such as cars, radios and guns.

Despite the tight budgets that do not allow law enforcement agencies to spend much money on new technology, the report, issued last month, highlights successful intergovernmental partnerships such as National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Centers. Four regional centers now operate, according to the report, handling about 10,000 requests for assistance annually.

The centers, located at companies and universities, help state and local crime fighters with geographic information systems, audio-enhancing tape recording, enhancing still photos or videotapes and analyzing computer files. A proposal by the Clinton administration would add 10 regional centers, easing the caseload for existing centers, according to the report, authored by Rand's William Schwabe.

"The technology assistance provided by the existing NLECTC and their partnering organizations appears to be paying high returns on investment, helping law enforcement agencies solve crimes and protect both the public and the police," according to Schwabe's report. It also recommends expanding the scope of the NLECTC program, involving perhaps national laboratories and the Energy Department.

Bruce Don, director of the Science and Technology Policy Institute at Rand, said the report offers few surprises. He said the findings, rather, might prompt readers to question the technological capabilities in practice in modern crime fighting. "Are those capabilities as high as we want them?" he asked.

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