Critical Read

The one thing law enforcement really needs from IT

WHAT: A new Rand study, "High-Priority Information Technology Needs for Law Enforcement," looks at how the National Institute of Justice is working.

WHY: NIJ is the Justice Department's research, development and evaluation agency and is charged with keeping federal, state and local law enforcement up to speed on IT. According to Rand, it could use some polish on how it provides information to those entities.

NIJ was tasked to serve as the national focal point for work on criminal justice technology by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The institute conducts programs to improve the safety and effectiveness of law enforcement technology and improve access to such technology by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

NIJ's potential reach within U.S. law enforcement is wide. The Rand study estimates there are nearly 18,000 relevant agencies, including about 12,500 local departments, 3,000 sheriff's offices, 50 state agencies and 1,700 special jurisdiction agencies.

"This situation requires strategic planning information, both to help NIJ make the best investments to leverage its limited funds and to help the range of technology developers supporting law enforcement better understand the law enforcement community's needs and priorities," the report states.

Rand's researchers identified three overarching areas that NIJ should sharpen: the law enforcement community's knowledge of technology and practices, sharing and use of law enforcement-related information, and research and development on a range of topics.

The researchers found that sharing, displaying and using information effectively are major challenges for the community because efforts to date have had limited coverage and are not consistent. That environment makes it difficult for new developers and users to learn about all the available information-sharing tools and technologies, the report concludes.

To deepen the community's technical knowledge, the study recommends that NIJ designate a federal coordinator for technology-related outreach who would work with various stakeholders to develop and monitor a dissemination strategy capturing who will do what, for whom and when. It also recommends that NIJ look into creating a common operational picture or dashboard display that law enforcement officers could use.

The federal coordinator would also maintain and monitor a master list of outstanding needs and development tasks, make sure information-sharing projects work better, and disseminate all gathered information through an information-sharing strategic plan.

VERBATIM: "The most important keynote from across all the top needs was not a requested technology. Instead, it was a general need to improve the law enforcement community's awareness of the most promising criminal justice practices and technologies."


About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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