instead of "letting technology drive the process?"

There is a real desire to show you're doing something. The problem is that in the desire to put programs in place, you sometimes put the cart before the horse and put a technology out that is full of problems. You create more problems than you're solving.

Part of it is just assessing the technology and saying, "With this we'll have a 2 percent error rate. With this we'll have a 20 percent error rate." With the handheld bio-detection [devices], some had 50 percent false positives when they did testing. That's unacceptable.

People can live with a certain level of error. The problem is you've got to ensure that the technology you put out is mature enough to actually solve the problem instead of creating more problems for you. The minute you start pulling people over because they've been recognized as being on a watch list and it turns out the technology was at fault -- it was somebody who looked like him but it wasn't him -- first of all you open yourself up to enormous liability. Secondly, you're going to run into problems with the credibility of the equipment.

You put something out. Then you pull it back because it's not working. Then you reintroduce it. People have done that with technology. You put it out prematurely, then you have to pull it and it never is really well accepted again.

We're under enormous pressure to get a lot done quickly, but you can't compromise the quality just to try and get it out. That's a big mistake. I'd rather see them ensure and validate technology, then put it out, rather than put it out and constantly have to fix it in the field. That doesn't work.

How are we doing in terms of interoperability?

We're making some progress, but it's painfully slow. There are two issues: One is the technology itself -- getting all these different radio systems, frequencies and companies to talk to one another. We fought for years to try and get General Electric and Motorola to allow their 800 MHz radios to talk. Never got it done. Motorola had a black box technology in their system they didn't want to share with GE. We couldn't get the two systems talking.

Because of the proprietary nature of communications equipment, some of it is just trying to figure out who you want talking to each other. What is it you want to do on an interoperable system? And it's expensive.

This is something we started looking at in New York 1996 and 1997. We looked at a black box in around 1998 or so, and they said you could take this box and UHF talking to VHF and talking to 800 MHz, and it would work. It was quite some time before that came about. There is technology out there. It's just not ready yet.

It's not just voice, it's data. Here in the National Capital Region, it's being able to get the departments -- there are some on 800 MHz, some on VHF, some on UHF -- it's getting them all to talk when you need to.

In some places, I think it's cultural. In northern Virginia, they've been able to get through most of that. In New York, it's been cultural. They're trying to get through that now.

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor