About This Report

Material in this report is drawn from the Digital Communities Law Enforcement IT Task Force, a collaborative networking group for government IT professionals. The group exchanges information and experiences through online and face-to-face meetings. The goal is to help municipal and regional government members make smarter technology decisions for their communities.


Keeping pace with the speed at which most citizens access Web data is imperative for public safety agencies. As technology empowers people to know more about what’s around them faster, expectations rise for how quickly others also should be in the know. Citizens are bound to be unforgiving when poor data access prevents first responders from saving lives. Technology exists for field responders to obtain real-time data from crime databases, map databases, hospitals and other sources that can accelerate field operations. The problem is that many localities still lack networks sufficient to handle such demanding applications. Funding is scarce, and officials squabble over technology preferences. When agencies overcome those obstacles, the upgrades make jurisdictions and citizens safer. This Digital Communities Quarterly Report highlights governments that are making this a reality. The report also addresses how funding was secured to make the networks feasible. In many cases, this means collaborating with neighboring jurisdictions, breaking old habits and reorganizing processes. As economic difficulties continue choking agencies, perhaps the next few years will bring the creativity necessary for deploying high-capacity public safety networks.

The Digital Communities Law Enforcement IT Task Force urges public safety agencies to make implementing fourth-generation (4G) communications infrastructure a top priority. Wireless networks with 4G capability have faster speeds and offer more flexibility in how bandwidth is used. This empowers networks to pass more data to responders, enabling them to manage situations more effectively. The wireless capabilities usually available to responders make accessing data from hospitals, the National Crime Information Center and numerous other sources difficult. Pulling down the data frequently requires bandwidth-hungry applications, which many public safety wireless networks can’t handle. What follows is a discussion of areas of emergency response needing high-capacity network connectivity and how local governments are addressing that need.

Need for More Cameras

Security cameras usually rely on robust broadband, but jurisdictions can’t extend fiber and cabling everywhere to support the devices. Deployments are expensive, time-consuming and often physically impossible. Frequently existing infrastructure presents physical obstacles. Consequently in locations where jurisdictions can’t run fiber and cabling, crimes and other incidents go unrecorded. In March 2010, for example, a man stabbed two people to death on a New York City subway. No security cameras were present nearby, so police couldn’t identify the murderer.

In settings where cameras are more plentiful, multiple systems from different vendors deployed across local jurisdictions make it difficult for dispatchers and emergency personnel to see all camera views from a single location, which would help them better coordinate their efforts.

Law enforcement’s obvious need is cameras that don’t require fiber, cables or trenching. Jurisdictions could add temporary installations for events, which they could easily move to areas where crime is increasing or a disaster is imminent. Such devices should enable cities and regions to add cameras across jurisdictional, geographical and technical lines on a single system. Dispatchers could see all camera views from a single location, and first responders could potentially see any camera view from a mobile device.