January 26, 2005 By Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor
To look only at technology for solutions is shortsighted. There are, however, promising technologies that could pave the road toward a coherent justice and public safety network or networks. Inroads must be made in governance, funding and cultural issues as well for the technology to reach its potential.
Some of the more promising technologies include mesh networks, software defined radio, WiMAX and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).
There is reason to be excited about some of the technological possibilities, said Dale Good, former director of Justice Information Technology Services for the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, but he cautioned against the notion that a silver bullet will revolutionize public safety. He said progress first must be made in developing standards, and changing the culture and governance of public safety organizations. "I really think the hurdle is so great on some of these other things, there's no silver bullet. Like Global Justice XML, we hear so much about it, and it's an important thing, but it's a very small piece of the technology puzzle.
"We're hardly even taking advantage of technologies that are commonly used in the private sector and are just now poking their heads into the public sector," he said. "We're barely using Web services. We're barely using messaging middleware. We're barely using identification technology. A lot of states are still rolling fingerprints; they're not even using LiveScan. The FBI standard for capturing fingerprints is still in the Dark Ages."
Good said some wireless technologies are superior, but the challenge, especially for the larger jurisdictions receiving homeland security grants, is as much in planning joint powers agreements and procedures, and deciding how to use wireless in different situations.
Because many justice and public safety officials are elected -- including judges, sheriffs and prosecutors -- they tend to be independent minded, making the justice system an almost adversarial one.
Good stressed the need for public safety agencies to try understanding their governance roles and responsibilities. He said he recently attended a meeting on integration with some state officials where the basic groundwork still needed to be laid out. "There were 20 people sitting around a table, and they haven't even defined what integration is. They haven't defined how to make decisions or decide as a body how to direct federal grants toward an integration initiative."
Good said in terms of integration or interoperability, it would be nice if a state had just a few umbrella organizations with a few technological applications that need to be integrated. "You may have hundreds if not thousands in some states," he said. "If you really want to integrate end to end, you have to deal with all of them, and you're dealing with organizations that have elected leadership or may or may not understand the issue; may or may not understand technology; may or may not have any IT support."
Philip Marshall, director of Mobile Wireless Technologies for The Yankee Group, agrees that the cultural and governance issues must be solved, but is optimistic that technology can expedite that process.
"Yes, you're going to have to go through changes, and yes, there are going to be barriers," Marshall said. "But you need a supply push so people are driven to change in the culture and it becomes an incentive. Without these technologies, you don't have that incentive."
If it's a revolution you're expecting, forget it, Marshall said. The technology, along with the standards and policies that go with it, will mesh in time. "There are evolutionary steps that occur," he said. "It's more than a technology, it's a system. Because of the span and scope of that system,
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