It's the type of nightmare that can raise a police officer's blood pressure: In the border region between Virginia and North Carolina, a suspect rockets down the highway so fast toward Pelham, N.C., that his car's speedometer creeps into the triple digits. Two Caswell County, N.C., officers follow behind as civilian vehicles swerve to avoid a collision. The suspect blasts through Pelham, and the officers see that he's heading toward Danville, Va. They radio their county dispatch center, which in turn relays the message to Danville's dispatch -- but then things go awry.

The suspect crosses the state line, but the police officers must end the pursuit because Virginia is not their jurisdiction. And by the time Danville's dispatch notifies its police force and those officers are ready to engage, the suspect is gone. The inability of the two police forces to seamlessly communicate has enabled a criminal to avoid apprehension -- an alarming problem that occurs when law enforcement agencies have radio systems that aren't integrated. This is problematic when a chase runs through multiple jurisdictions and affects multiple law enforcement agencies.

"Pittsylvania County [Va.] surrounds Danville on three sides and also borders North Carolina, and the city of Danville borders North Carolina. And right across, sharing that same border is Caswell County [N.C]. There are at least two main thoroughfares that run between Virginia and North Carolina -- Highway 29 and 86," said Maj. Dean Hairston of the Danville Police Department.

Many law enforcement and emergency management forces use land mobile radio technology to communicate, but often each agency has its own frequency and range -- sufficient when talking among colleagues of a single department, but problematic for talking to other agencies. Sometimes a memorandum of understanding permits one agency to switch to another agency's frequency if necessary. However, the drawback is an agency can't use its own frequency while also using another jurisdiction's frequency. In these cases, the long arm of the law can be thrown seriously out of joint.

But there's hope on the horizon for regional authorities and their citizens.


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Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.