Anti-crime researchers focus on terrorism: National Institute of Justice seeks innovative technology to protect U.S. homeland.
The NIJ--the research arm of the Justice Department--is stepping up its efforts to assist police, first responders and the military services in developing innovative ways to counter the increased terrorist threat, Boyd explained during an interview.
Since the institute was created in 1968, he noted, it has helped develop many devices and techniques that have proven useful both in traditional law-enforcement and the fight against terrorism. Included are such innovations as soft body armor, night-vision equipment, DNA technology and less-than-lethal weapons, which now are used widely throughout law enforcement and the military services.
To develop such gadgets, the NIJ works closely with federal, state and local police agencies, fire departments and other emergency services. During the 1990s, the institute began ramping up its cooperation with Defense Department organizations, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the individual military services, as well as the national laboratories, the Energy Department and the defense industry.
Much of its traditional anticrime work is useful against terrorists, Boyd said. "We believe that all law-enforcement research is relevant to counter-terrorism," he noted. "At its most basic level, terrorism is a criminal act."
As the focus on antiterrorism increased, so has the NIJ budget, from $25 million in 1994 to nearly $300 million requested for 2003. Of the 2003 request, approximately 85 percent is earmarked for research and development, Boyd said.
NIJ's research efforts run the gamut, seeking new tools to prevent terrorist incidents, to investigate those incidents that do occur and to limit casualties among investigators, first responders, military personnel and--most importantly--civilian populations, Boyd said.
"For us, the mission is all of those civilians," he explained. The military services are trying to limit collateral damage during combat operations, he said, but within the United States, "no collateral damage is acceptable."
The best option, Boyd said, is to prevent an event in the first place. To catch terrorists before they can do harm, for example, the institute has funded development of a walk-through weapons-detection portal by the Energy Department's Idaho Environmental and Engineering Laboratory.
The portal detects ferro-magnetic materials commonly found in weapons, but not the metals used in jewelry, keys and coins. Thus, it can speed up the process of scanning people at airports, schools, courthouses and other sensitive sites. It has been commercialized by Quantum Magnetics, of San Diego, and Milestone Technologies, of Raleigh, N.C.
Detecting Concealed Weapons
The NIJ also sponsored a portable system that can detect concealed weapons at a distance in a crowd. This device--built by Trex Enterprises, another San Diego-based firm--uses a passive millimeter wave imager to pick up the differences in heat energy between a person's body and what that person is carrying. The objects appear as distinct images on real-time video.
To help bomb technicians keep their skills honed, the NIJ worked with the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head, Md., to prepare an interactive CD-ROM to serve as a refresher course for the basic instruction taught at the FBI's Hazardous Devices School.
The institute and the Indian Head facility also are testing a small, portable device that could disable a large fuel-fertilizer bomb, such as the one that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
The Raytheon Company, of Arlington, Va., has teamed up with the institute to produce a portable radar system that can penetrate concrete and brick to locate and track multiple individuals through walls. The system could be useful in hostage rescues and other urban-combat scenarios, Boyd said.
For this reason, he said, the NIJ is collaborating with the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force Research Laboratory, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Technical Support Working Group--a joint effort by the Defense, State, Justice and Energy Departments--to complete the radar's development. A prototype is scheduled to be evaluated before year's end.
The NIJ's AGILE (Advanced Generation Interoperability for Law Enforcement) program is evaluating an ACU-l000 communications switch at the police department in Alexandria, Va. The switch provides communications interoperability during critical incidents by linking voice communications among disparate radio systems, thereby enabling different agencies and jurisdictions to communicate with each other.
"That could help solve a major problem," Boyd said. "Right now, most agencies can't talk to one another."
Immediately after the September 11 attack on the Pentagon--which is located not far from Alexandria--the ACU-l000 switch was activated for use by the city's partner agencies, which included the FBI, Secret Service and local police from all over the metropolitan area. Throughout the crisis, a number of active channels were monitored to provide dispatchers with information from other departments.
At New York City's World Trade C enter, the NIJ provided technology support to rescue and recovery efforts, Boyd said. NIJ representatives helped identify and meet the technological needs of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams and the New York City Fire Department, he explained.
Finding Trapped Victims
The NIJ-funded Savannah River Technology Center, located near Aiken, S.C., contributed a team of electrical and mechanical engineers, a chemist and a technician. With them, they brought more than $500,000 worth of equipment, including cameras, microphones, crawlers, boroscopes and other tools to reach into inaccessible and hazardous spaces under the rubble.
To aid in detecting, documenting and recording trapped victims and human remains, the NIJ set up a perimeter surveillance system and trained rescue workers to use it.
The NIJ-funded Center for Civil Force Protection--located at the Energy Department's Sandia National Laboratories, near Albuquerque, N.M.--deployed a system that uses search dogs outfitted with video cameras, lights and other sensors to investigate areas too inaccessible or dangerous for humans to enter. The dogs wore tiny radio receivers to allow their handlers to give them commands from a distance.
Representatives from Pennsylvania State University's Applied Research Laboratory contributed expertise in advanced acoustic technologies and terrain assessment.
In many respects, terrorist attacks are similar to major natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, Boyd said. "We prefer to think of all of these events as critical incidents," he said.
In all of them, Boyd noted, first responders face similar problems--such as inadequate coordination across jurisdictions and among agencies, lack of training and equipment deficiencies.
To solve such dilemmas, the institute in 1997 set up a critical-incident technology program. This program is a collaborative effort between federal, state and local public-safety agencies, including both police departments and first responders, Boyd explained. As its part in the program, the NIJ contributes $10 million a year to help find ways to fill gaps in existing technology. Current critical-incident projects include:
* Funding an effort by the Office of Law Enforcement Standards--an arm of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology--to produce a series of guides to biohazard and chemical defense. Final drafts of the guides were placed on the Internet immediately after the terrorist attacks.
* Working with the Joint Program Steering Group--a collaboration between the Justice and Defense Departments--and the TSWG to develop a protective mask that would give first responders time to exit a hazardous area, alert the proper officials, stop others from entering the area and evacuate victims.
* Investigating the development of face-recognition technology, which compares a person's face with images stored in a database. Such technology could help improve aviation security, Boyd said, by speeding identification of airline crews, airport personnel and possibly individuals on a watch list.
Another NIJ program that has wide applications, Boyd said, is its effort to develop less-than-lethal weapons. The Justice Department began encouraging the use of non-lethal weapons--such as water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas--in the late 1960s as a way of putting down riots and other civil disorders with minimum casualties.
A 1986 attorney general's conference recommended an increased emphasis on non-lethal technologies. In response, the NIJ established a less-than-lethal program that investigated the use of:
* "Sticky" foam to incapacitate arrestees.
* Strobe lights to disorient suspects.
* Air-bag restraints in police vehicles.
* Rapidly deployable road spikes to stop escaping vehicles.
Since 1996, the NIJ has worked with the Defense Department's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, which is headquartered at the Marine Base, in Quantico, Va., to develop such equipment for the armed services. The services are turning to non-lethal technologies for operations such as peacekeeping and force protection, where use of deadly force must be carefully limited.
The NIJ also helps spread the word about new technologies throughout the nation's fragmented law enforcement system, Boyd said. The United States has more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies, 50 state prison systems and thousands of local jails, he noted. Traditionally, he said, they have had little access to information about technological developments in their field.
To help change this, Boyd explained, the NIJ in 1994 created a National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center to serve as a clearinghouse of information and source of technology assistance.
The system includes a national center, located in Rockville, Md., and regional facilities in El Segundo, Calif.; Denver; Rome, N.Y., and Charleston, S.C. In addition, the NLCTC has offices that specialize in border matters, located in San Diego; law-enforcement standards, in Gaithersburg, Md.; commercialization of law-enforcement and corrections technologies, in Wheeling, W.Va., and rural law-enforcement issues, in Hazard, Ky.
In West Virginia, the institute conducts a mock prison riot every year to give corrections officers from all over the world a chance to use and evaluate the latest technologies for dealing with uprisings.
Through its Office of Law Enforcement Standards, the NLCTC has developed voluntary minimum performance measurements for police firearms.
The center contracted with two independent testing laboratories--H.P. White Laboratory Inc., of Street, Md., and United States Test laboratory LLC, of Wichita, Kan.--to test automatically loading pistols, the kind used by the vast majority of law-enforcement agencies.
Eight manufacturers agreed to submit a total of 23 pistol models for testing. As of October 2001, 19 of those tested were found to be in compliance with NIJ standards.
The standards office also tests metal handcuffs. Manufacturers are required to meet minimum standards for such factors as mechanical strength, corrosion resistance and cheek-plate tamper resistance. At last report, a total of 18 models, made by six firms, complied with the standards.
Although much of the NIJ's research concerns counter-terrorism, President Bush has opted not to transfer the institute to the proposed Department of Homeland security, officials said.
The reason, they said, is that the vast amount of the NIJ's work is for state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies, and would not fit well into a federal counter-terror organization.
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|Date:||Aug 1, 2002|
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