The Jurassic Park effect

     When a residential community contains multi-million-dollar homes owned by celebrities and well-heeled corporate executives, security challenges rise exponentially. Dennis Weiner is chief of police in one such locale — the village of Centre Island, located on the northern shore of Long Island in New York — and he says security and access control are the paramount concerns of his department. After all, among the posh estates situated within CIPD jurisdiction are properties owned by singer-songwriter Billy Joel, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and the heads of a number of nationally known companies.

     Centre Island's affluence extends to its police department, so the department Weiner manages is well-funded, well-staffed and well-equipped. He oversees a sophisticated, high-tech surveillance system, for example, that includes state-of-the-art mobile records management software. In addition, CIPD has developed unique deployment methods for some common — and not-so-common — technology to take advantage of the village's small size and maximize the security-friendly features of its geography.

Too tech-savvy?

     Few will debate the benefits and convenience of applying high-tech solutions to problems posed by security challenges such as those in Centre Island. But experts caution that a high-tech solution shouldn't be the only solution, especially when it comes to security and access control.

     Hark back to the 1993 cultural message conveyed by Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg: When the technology to regulate and monitor the beasts in "Jurassic Park" fails, it's (albeit science-fictional) mayhem.

     Is there risk of the fiction becoming truth in tech-savvy policing?

     Not really, says Weiner, adding that an unexpected malfunction of a CIPD-employed technology would not cripple his agency. It would affect his officers' speed and efficiency, he notes, but safety would still be maintained, and the public would most certainly not be left unprotected. Redundancies built into CIPD's technology provide backup and the department has structured its programs to include a combination of state-of-the-art technology and best-practices law enforcement management.

Bling bling

     Centre Island is a village of 444 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Its police department employs nine officers and works with an annual operating budget of $1.6 million.

     With a budget of that magnitude for its small community, it may seem the CIPD would have endless financial resources.

     However, Weiner points out that although some community members' resources may be large, the department spends cautiously and operates to protect and serve in the same way another district of more modest means or with less-famous residents would. "Honestly we are working under very restrictive budgeting criteria," Weiner says. "Although the department serves a wealthy community, it is very cost-conscious, and where it would seem that the village government would have unlimited resources, that's not the case." Nevertheless, CIPD has been able to add to its arsenal such items as night vision binoculars, a license plate reader and camera, a mobile records management system, and digital cameras and scanners equipped with Bluetooth technology.

One way in, one way out

     To get to Centre Island, travelers must take a causeway from peninsular Bayville, New York. Once they travel the approximately 700-foot isthmus into the village, they come face to face with the police station.

     CIPD Sgt. Alex Arnold, a 14-year veteran of the department, says the station's placement makes newcomers aware that their presence is known and noted. "We're no more than 6 feet off the road," Arnold says. "So just coming in, you've got to drive right by the police station. Having the police station, the police cars and officers in and out, you have [a law enforcement] presence right there before you come into the island. I think that's a great, unique feature that we have."

     In addition to the single entry and exit, the department has made strategic choices with many of its other tools: the license plate reader and camera are placed near the causeway to document all who enter, for example. And the license plate reader, by Remington ELSAG, reads the plates on cars coming into the community and runs them against a vast database to check for warrants, terrorist watches and more. The computer program will register an alert if any vehicle is flagged as being of interest to law enforcement, giving CIPD officers the chance to take action as necessary. The camera's placement also allows for the documentation of all who entered the village and when they entered — an invaluable tool for law enforcement in today's world.

     Weiner notes that a unique feature of the village's geography also helps the department save money while allowing his department to implement a great strategic lead against potential criminal activity.

     "Our jurisdiction is a peninsula, so there's one road in, and it's the same road out," Weiner says. "We have a great geographic opportunity to set up a stationary camera, versus the typical uses for license plate readers as mobile units. We've decided that we'll get a better bang for our dollar to place the equipment as stationary and capture 100 percent of the incoming traffic."

     Given that there is only one road for incoming and outgoing traffic, the department is able to monitor all traffic with the use of only one camera, saving the department thousands of dollars in equipment without sacrificing the surveillance or the defensive benefits of the equipment, Weiner says.

A cozy cape

     Centre Island has about one officer on staff per 50 residents, which is more than four times the ratio of officers to citizens found in nearby New York City. It's also an asset to the department when it comes to familiarity and community watch.

     With CIPD's nine-person shop, most of the officers recognize which incomers belong and who is new. When officers monitor the license plate reader, they can sort out which vehicles may be of more interest, an ability that would decrease as the sizes of the community and department grow.

     "The people know who we are and we know most of them by name," Arnold says. "So, in the middle of the night when there's a car coming in that you don't know, you're going to take a little bit more interest in them because you know that they're not from the area. That's what a lot of good old fashioned police work is: knowing who's there and having them know you."

     For their part, residents alert police of suspicious or unknown vehicles or people in the area, which reinforces the technological security of the village with community watch surveillance.

The tool kit

     CIPD has myriad technologies to utilize. In addition to laptops in its cruisers, CIPD also uses digital photography, TASER, night vision, Bluetooth scanning, and license plate reading technologies on top of traditional enforcement weapons such as batons, OC spray and firearms.

     Peers describe Weiner as a very progressive chief. Since his introduction as chief in the community, he has transformed the department from an ordinary small-town agency (with out-of-the-ordinary residents) to a tech-savvy department that is recognized as one of the area's leaders in putting technology to work for law enforcement.

     "Centre Island is a very influential village that pretty much stays state-of-the-art," says Vincent Tedesco, CEO of Total Computer Group (TCG), which created, licensed and operates the Total Enforcement (TE) system for law enforcement. "They're very progressive."

     The TE software puts search and record capabilities in the hands of the officers on location, allowing them to electronically print tickets from the cruiser, search subject names or location addresses for contact history in the agency's own database, as well as other, consenting jurisdictions' databases, including systems not integrated with TE.

     Weiner says for his community, the cost of the initial purchase of the TE system was "very reasonable." In addition, the annual maintenance fee figures at about $7,100 per year for the department's seven-year contract. The system was developed by a former Garden City, New York police officer, Al Perez, who is now the chief software architect for TCG. Perez says he was inspired to develop and herald advancing technologies in police departments after working with the legacy software that was standard in law enforcement.

     Tedesco notes some of the benefits of the TE system. "If you have a bad guy on the street and he has a warrant out in Florida and you're in New York," he says, "you can put the guy's name in and get a complete history of not only if he was ever arrested, but if there [were] even just interviews of that individual in another state, another jurisdiction or another county."

     In addition, the system works with Microsoft's .Net Framework, which allows CIPD to barcode any document and read barcodes on the back of any license. "That information can then be sent to [the] National Crime Information Center and return all the information back for a particular driver or for a VIN number on a vehicle," explains Tedesco. "We can tie it to video cameras; we can share information among agencies with the touch of a button."

Jurassic Park meltdown?

     The risk of data breach of the wireless network, which has a 128-key encryption, is "impossible," Perez says. "As a matter of fact, it's never been known to have been breached."

     Although CIPD relies heavily on technology to secure its district, its officers say their community wouldn't be crippled without it. Instead, they say, the law enforcement and security technology employed throughout Centre Island works in tandem with traditional law enforcement techniques, and each strengthens the other.

     So, when the fence is down, protection from a tech-smart force is still worth something.

     "In the Jurassic Park meltdown example, there were no checks and balances in place," Weiner explains. "My impression is that as these technologies develop commecially, a lot of protections are being designed into them because of a commercial business necessity and also to reduce liability. As a result, when police departments purchase commercial-off-the-shelf solutions, you're actually getting all of the protections and safety measures designed into those systems from the beginning."

     Weiner discusses high-tech policing in the context of a non-fiction catastrophe, September 11, 2001, and notes that a system like Centre Island's may help larger agencies handle a system compromise. Hypothetically, if the NYPD stations nearest to ground zero had had a system like CIPD currently uses, they could have easily used another station's server. That's not to say its system had a malfunction at that time, but with use of systems now available, applying advancing technology would not add risks. CIPD is still confident it would be able to protect and serve in a disaster, because of the redundancies built into the system.

     "The general progression of technology is helping, but also subsequent to 9/11 there has been a great demand signal by police departments to integrate existing technology into their operations," Weiner says. "Whether it's increased capability, increased situational awareness, whatever it may be, since 9/11 there's been a lot of effort and money put into that area."

     In fact, Perez believes that the risk of not developing technological policing is a more realistic threat than a science fiction "what if?" could ever be.

     "There's danger to not technologically advancing in law enforcement, that I can assure you," Perez says. "Intelligence can only be gathered in the future through a technological means. Paper is actually the enemy to law enforcement. The cop on the street not having fingertip access to all the data-mining capacity is detrimental to law enforcement and the public at large."