By Lance Valcour, Officer of Order Merit, Inspector (Retired), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Police Service; Executive Director, Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group; and LEIM Board Member, IACP
n 1979, I helped with the first implementation of a computer-aided dispatch and records management system in Ottawa. Part of the project dealt with Canada’s first ever use of mobile data terminals. I was given this assignment primarily because I was the most junior officer working in the communications section.
Long gone are the days of assigning a junior constable to help manage a major information technology (IT) project. Having said that, are law enforcement leaders doing enough to help with the convergence between IT and radio professionals who work for us?
This question was raised during an interesting and wide-ranging discussion I had over lunch recently with a number of thought leaders. It was pointed out that in many organizations, the “IT shop” never talks to the “radio shop.” In fact, they often work in silos and rarely come in contact with each other.
With Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems now Internet protocol based, the voice radio—the radio on our officer’s belts that costs thousands of dollars each—is, in fact, data. Old analog radios have been replaced by digital radios that transmit a series of zeros and ones—that is, data. And these data, once received at a local tower, are transmitted along fiber-optic lines, purchased or rented by the IT department of a given agency.
Smaller departments may have an advantage on this situation. They cannot afford multiple staff working in silos. They typically have one member assigned to this task, often a patrol officer or sergeant who has some technical background (possibly military) and who enjoys doing the technology-based work. These individuals are required to learn about both radios and IT—it is a forced convergence. In medium to larger agencies, however, this typically is not the case.
Importance to Chiefs
So what has changed? Why should chiefs and senior commanders be concerned? With the convergence or merging of multiple technologies into one, such as on one’s iPhone or BlackBerry, radio and IT issues are at play. While traditional, narrowband LMR radio systems are not going away anytime soon, broadband technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent in public safety today.
All chiefs are, or should be, well aware of the massive push for the D-Block of the 700 megahertz (MHz) spectrum in the United States. The IACP, led by Chief Harlin McEwen (retired), chair of the IACP Communications and Technology Committee and chair of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust, along with a large list of public safety associations, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association and National Sheriffs’ Association, is pushing hard for the assignment of this additional 10 MHz of highly effective and sought-after spectrum, for a total of 20 MHz—the Public Safety Spectrum Trust plus D-Block.
What many U.S. and international chiefs might not know is that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is also working with its counterparts from fire, emergency medical services, and a wide range of partners for the same spectrum. For details about these efforts, visit http://www.action700.ca.
Once Canadian efforts secure the spectrum and start to build this North American–wide capability, the issue of radio and IT convergence becomes all the more important. Public safety leaders and politicians must constantly be reminded that this spectrum is not designed for traditional police radios but for broadband data. These data include video, situational awareness, in-building 3-D location and tracking, wireless sensors for hazardous materials situations, and so on. These systems all require large amounts of data and a network with sufficient capacity that is dedicated to public safety requirements.
These systems also require that police radio and IT professionals work closely together—something that is not traditionally the case. At the First Canadian Public Safety Interoperability Workshop, held by the Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group in 2008, there were multiple occasions of IT and radio staff from the same organization sitting at the same tables. They looked at each other and said words to the effect of “What are you doing here?” The Fifth Canadian Public Safety Interoperability Workshop was in Ottawa this past December. While the “Why are you here?” question was rarely uttered, much work remains to be done to support the professional development of members in cross-training the two disciplines.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Informatics Committee completed a workshop February 22–24, titled “Maximizing Technology Partnerships in Challenging Economic Times.” Law enforcement and public safety officials from across Canada and the United States attended to learn and share their best practices.
One recurring theme was that public safety agencies around the world are facing fiscal restraints. The second was that maximizing partnerships does not mean with only external agencies—it means also internally, as agencies leverage the full capabilities of all their staffs.
What Chiefs Can Do
So what can law enforcement leaders do? First and foremost, as with most problems, chiefs must take stock of the current state of their agencies. A great way to do this is to begin developing an interoperability strategic plan or an information management strategic plan. This plan should include the following components:
- An assessment of the current state of interoperability in the agency, city, or region of interest
- Articulation of the future or the desired state of interoperability in a jurisdiction, including a discussion of what skill sets key staff should have at that future point
- The development of a business case for the change, identifying potential costs and cost savings, and clearly articulating the return on investment expected, with improvements in efficiency and effectiveness as well as in providing new capabilities
- An analysis of barriers to change, including funds as a primary barrier
- The creation of action plans with clear deliverables, timelines, and responsibilities to reach the future state
Clearly, one of the action plans should deal with how best to support staff in professional development. Another action plan should deal with how a chief plans on measuring performance and related human resource management issues. Staff should be active participants in the entire process, not just in the professional development action plans. The IACP Webber Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement is a worthy model to consider when developing a strategic plan, as it forces one to think about exactly how performance will be measured.
Chiefs have multiple opportunities and options for improving technology and communications. The first step can be as simple as reviewing the organizational chart. To whom do IT and radio staff report? If a systemic issue exists, a slight change in reporting structures could spur improvement.
Second, chiefs might consider amalgamating IT and radio shops into one, if they are currently separate. This could yield a new information and communications technology division with one supervisor overseeing the various professionals. This could help encourage cooperation in support of the joint mission defined in the agency’s interoperability strategic plan
Supporting the professional development of IT and radio staff in a complex technological environment makes great business sense. More importantly, building an effective interoperability strategic plan that aligns with an agency’s strategic plan will not only support a team’s development, but will also help to ensure an organization is well-positioned to deal with future challenges and opportunities. ■
|The Law Enforcement Information Management (LEIM) section is the largest section of the IACP and is active under the leadership of this year’s chair, Captain Ed Posey, Gainesville, Florida, Police Department. Every year, the LEIM hosts its Training Conference and Technology Exposition. The 36th Annual LEIM Conference is in Indianapolis, Indiana, May 21–23, 2012. For details, visit http://www.theiacp.org/Technology/LEIMSection/LEIM2012Conference/tabid/977/Default.aspx.|
This event is an excellent opportunity for IT and radio teams to come together with hundreds of their counterparts from all over the world. International speakers, top IT and radio professionals, and numerous networking opportunities are built into the program that is designed, in part, to support the professional development goals for agencies’ technology staffs.
The LEIM also recently launched a LinkedIn group to leverage social media and help with training and development. LEIM Section members may join at http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=4224382&trk=myg_ugrp_ovr.
Please cite as:
Lance Valcour, "Information Technology and Radio Convergence: What Law Enforcement Leaders Can Do to Develop Their Members," Technology Talk The Police Chief 79 (March 2012): 6465.