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Back to Archives | Back to September 2004 Contents 

The TUPPER Project: A Shared Law Enforcement Information Network

By J. William Schmitt, Chief of Police, and Donald Dolfi, Lieutenant, Whitehall Borough Police Department, Whitehall Borough, Pennsylvania

he TUPPER (Technology Utilization Pilot Project for Enhancing Resources) project is a consortium of 27 police departments that share information. The network currently spans three counties and covers more than 125 square miles in southwest Pennsylvania. It provides a messaging conduit to 650 law enforcement officers and 90 distribution lists.

The Need
TUPPER was initiated to improve communication between and among officers in the region's police departments. Communicating with officers from other departments to discuss investigations and problems that crossed jurisdictional lines was becoming more difficult because of increased demands on police in the region. Often, a neighboring department would be targeting the same suspects as another department and neither would be aware of the other's interest. An information void existed.

Face-to-face meetings were difficult to arrange, and the normal communication arsenal of pagers, voice mail, and faxes had its limitations and was not meeting all of the departments' needs. What was needed was an expedited method to exchange and receive vital information:

  • Field contact information

  • Arrest records

  • Mug shots

  • National Crime Information Center records

  • Data from the Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network

Beginning the TUPPER Project
Originally, the wide-area private communications network was implemented to share field contact information between and among seven departments. The initial project was started in 1996 with funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program. The federal funded amount was $51,000 with a 50 percent match required from the original seven communities. This meant that the local share per department was a little more than $7,000 to cover hardware, software, and implementation costs of the project. Ongoing costs would be covered by department member fees.

As the TUPPER project became successful, more departments joined, pushing the number of participating agencies to 27.

Administrative Structure
The implementation of TUPPER into daily operations was smoother than originally estimated.

System Administrators: One officer in each department served as computer system administrator. This ongoing responsibility takes very little time each week and reduces requests for outside assistance in the maintenance of the systems. All of the system administrators were required to attend a 40-hour class on the general maintenance of the e-mail software on both the client machines and on the server. They were also responsible for training all of the members of their department to use e-mail.

Board of Directors: A board of directors oversees policies and implementation of TUPPER. One of the first official actions by the board was to put into place by-laws that not only established policy and procedures but also included charging each member department an annual fee to cover the cost of "common equipment and services." Common equipment included the hub computers and all of the associated peripheral devices. The services that were provided were the cost of the communication lines.

From the initial months of the project, the board realized that receiving the grant to get TUPPER on-line and active was a one-time event and that the future operating costs needed to be considered. The one thing that had to be avoided was the need to return to elected officials and request further funding for the project.

Funding: The operational costs for the first year approached $4,000, so the decision was made to charge each of the original seven departments $800 for the year. This provided a base of $5,600 of operating funds and the individual department fee of $800 was a minor item in the individual budgets. The approach to this annual fee, which is deposited in the TUPPER checking account, was very different from the use-it-or-lose-it budget process common among police departments. In terms of budgeting, it was a rather uncommon situation to be able to save the unspent funds for unforeseen emergencies.

The Technology
When the concept of the TUPPER network was first discussed in the early and mid-1990s, there was limited knowledge of what communication technology such as e-mail could accomplish. Some were skeptical. These reservations quickly vanished once the system became operational. Today, the level of success of the implementation can be measured by the level of groans heard when the system is down for maintenance.

The Internet was the first option explored to be the TUPPER messaging vehicle but several issues made this not a viable option. The goal was to be able to provide messaging to all officers in member departments, but using the Internet would require each user to maintain a personal address book of all other users of the network. Also, Pennsylvania laws prohibited the use of a public network like the Internet to share some investigative information. Likewise, a closed communications network based on the Internet would be too costly. Planners decided to build the TUPPER environment from the bottom up using modems and phone lines.

E-mail Systems as the Solution
E-mail systems were reviewed to find the solution that best served departments' needs. Cost was an obvious factor, but functionality was the main concern. In the end, the decision was made to implement Microsoft's Mail version 3.0. This was not only a cost-effective solution but it also supported e-mail delivery via a dial-up connection.

The approach to the implementation of an e-mail system was to have a centralized machine acting as the hub server that would coordinate the distribution of e-mail. Working closely with the phone company, the site of this hub server was chosen based on the anticipated costs of the phone calls to the remote e-mail servers. One community happened to be located in a calling zone where calls to all of the other departments could be made at a very reasonable rate.

Another challenge that needed to be addressed early in the project was defining the rules for user names, e-mail addresses, and department-specific and network global groups. A messaging group is an e-mail address where multiple users receive the same message sent to the entire group at one time. Requirements such as "Investigators" were implemented so that if one needed to query the investigators at one or more departments they did not need to know the exact individuals who fulfilled that role in a specific department.

Once a department became comfortable with electronic messaging, they took advantage of it internally and externally with other departments. Internally, orders and assignments were no longer typed and placed into each officer's mailbox. Rather, officers received the documents by e-mail along with a read-receipt request to ensure that all officers received and read the correspondence. The same process is also used to remind officers of pending court appearances. With Microsoft Outlook 2000, when a note is sent there is an option to notify the sender that his or her mail has been opened by the recipient.

TUPPER has demonstrated the benefits of crime fighting by e-mail. For example, a department investigating a series of burglaries learned through the use of e-mail communications that the same group of burglars was also active in five other communities. Interagency cooperation led to the arrest of the suspects.

Centralized Mug Shot Library: The Centralized Mug Shot Library (CMSL) is also maintained on the system. The CMSL retains arrest information and photos of arrested persons in a centralized repository for the benefit of all investigators. The legal determination is that arrest records are a matter of public record and that sharing that information by e-mail system does not constitute a public network, which means the exchanges of information are legal.

Super Master Name Index: The departments modified their records management system to include a feature called the Super Master Name Index (SMNI). This portion of the system also contains field contact information that other departments had with individuals.

The SMNI is a very valuable tool for all departments. Departments need to reference the name files to determine if another department has had contact with a specific individual. Prior to the implementation of the network, SMNI information was added manually into a document and then distributed to the other departments on a computer disk. This old technique did not keep the information current and was too cumbersome to maintain. Adding the information on the TUPPER network is a better alternative and the information is always current.

NCIC 2000: In 2001 another challenge was presented to the TUPPER group: the state would soon migrate to an Internet topology to support NCIC 2000. TUPPER now had 27 departments, and 16 of these departments had National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network terminals. They would be affected by the migration from the state's proprietary network to an Internet topology.

At the same time, the growth and use of the network was driving up the phone costs. The TUPPER project explored the costs and benefits associated with a frame relay network from various vendors. A frame relay is a dedicated high-speed communication line. The final decision was made to migrate hub servers to a frame relay.

Once the backbone was in place, those departments with NCIC terminals began the migration to frame. In February 2002 the state police announced that the current connectivity to NCIC would be terminated as of November 2002 and connectivity costs would no longer be paid by the state. Departments would be required to contract with the state for a connection to NCIC at an annual cost of $7,200. After negotiations, the state police agreed to allow TUPPER to use its backbone to provide a single connection point to NCIC. This resulted in a savings to the local communities over $540,OOO in a five-year period. The cost of this single connection to NCIC was covered by a $300 increase in the member fees of those departments that use the connection.

There are positive benefits of the e-mail exchange of information that improves individual officers' efficiency. For example, many officers share their experiences from court with others in terms of pitfalls to avoid. Also shared globally are updates and interpretations of the law. Although there is no one person responsible for the distribution of relevant information, experience has shown that the officers take responsibility of distributing new information to others.

There are also many examples of the benefits to criminal investigations in southwestern Pennsylvania, but only two will be noted here. One example involves two suspects who stole an expensive coat from a department store in Greensburg, 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. A state trooper was assigned to the case; all he had to go on was an image of the suspects from a surveillance camera. This trooper happened to be the son of one of the chiefs on the TUPPER network. On presenting his dilemma to the chief, the chief suggested that the photo be scanned and then sent out to all of the officers on the network to see if anyone knew the suspects. The photograph was sent to all officers on the network on a Friday. The following Monday morning the state trooper received a call from an investigator in a member department who could identify the suspects. Officers made an arrest two days later. Given the information that the state trooper had to work with, there was very little opportunity to close the case without TUPPER.

The second incident involves a gang-related shooting that resulted in the death of a 14-month-old child on a Friday evening. Witnesses at the scene provided the name of the shooter, and officers ran his name through NCIC, which revealed an extensive rap sheet. Investigators contacted the Pennsylvania Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI), which is a clearinghouse of criminal information in Allegheny County, to determine if a photograph of the suspect was available. BCI did have a photograph, but only one, and they could not produce copies until Monday morning, some 50 hours after the shooting. The investigators checked the Super Master Name Index but the shooter's name turned up no hits. However, the rap sheet showed that the suspect had used several aliases. A search of the alias file revealed that another department had contact with the suspect, and a mug shot was contained in the SMSL. The photograph, incidentally, was the same photograph investigators would have received from BCI on Monday. Within three hours of the shooting, the shooter was positively identified and copies of his photograph were distributed to law enforcement agencies.

The Future
TUPPER is a continuously evolving project and is in no way a static environment. It has survived growth from the original seven departments to 27 agencies. It has migrated from a hub server to the frame relay. It has successfully established connection to NCIC and other databases.

Perhaps the most important aspect of TUPPER is its simplicity. Other than the records management system, all of the software and hardware required to build a similar network is readily available from many sources, including state purchasing agreements. Although outside assistance is required in the more technical areas, the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the overall environment is handled internally. TUPPER technology can be transferred to other departments and other consortiums of agencies can duplicate the system. In southwestern Pennsylvania the cooperation that has been forged by the TUPPER project will serve the departments well into the future. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 9, September 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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