Once an e-mail server is up and running and policy issues resolved, recruiting members, authenticating requests and adding cleared applicants are the tasks at hand.
A network starts small. Begin by sending out invitations to known law enforcement officers via e-mail. Those officers should then be encouraged to invite others to join. Word of mouth will produce surprising results. By doing things in this way, the initial response kept SPIN administrators busy but not overwhelmed.
The demographics of a network blanket is of particular interest in order to ensure the relevancy of information housed within the network. If the operational area is too broad, traffic becomes diluted. A network should not be so far-reaching that members on the outskirts continuously receive information that does not affect their areas of operation.
SPIN regularly receives requests to join from agencies outside of its boundaries. In recognition that, at times, such far-reaching information will be relevant, one representative per outlying agency is given SPIN access. However, these agencies also are encouraged to form networks of their own in order to realize the benefits of having a relative network upon which to communicate.
Member requests also must be authenticated. Authentication equates to confirming an officer's employment status and e-mail address by direct contact with his or her agency. This practice ensures law enforcement exclusivity, which is critical to maintain evidentiary integrity.
A welcome message should be sent to new members. Such messages should list network rules so new members know what is permissible, when disseminating information.
Yearly re-authentication also is advisable. This can be accomplished with an annual re-authentication form. Required information should include a member's employment status, e-mail address, department address and phone number. The document also should contain a network disclaimer, as well as an area for the member's signature and a command-level officer. The signature area should effectively indicate acknowledgement of the disclaimer.
Dissemination of the form to the network should be done in a common format, such as Word. The communication should include instructions to snail mail completed forms to the host agency for processing. Host agencies will then have hard copies accounting for all members.
Those agencies that employ multiple members of a given network can be re-authenticated as a group. To qualify for group re-authentication, respective agencies should own their own e-mail domain and have a policy of deactivating e-mail accounts when employees move on. Presuming those standards are met, an agency liaison can then be designated, using a modified re-authentication form.
Agency liaisons should be responsible for all correspondence with network administrators, keeping them advised of officers to add and remove from the server, as well as any technical needs.
Initial authentication and subsequent annual re-authentications provides group integrity. Given the weight of some of the information being exchanged, this method of screening is the pinnacle of accountability and the need for accountability speaks for itself.
In today's world where tech-savvy and transient criminals are the norm, perpetual communication increases the probability of detection, increasing both officer and public safety. E-mail networking enables all levels of law enforcement to quickly and easily contact and cooperate with one another. In southwestern Pennsylvania, the continual flow of photos and information through SPIN has fostered new working relationships, which at some levels were non-existent in the past. The irony in all of this is that in today's complex world of ingenious technology, something as simple as e-mail, tipped the scales in law enforcement's favor.