Failure to Communicate

Posted 2002-09-10 Print this article Print

A year after Sept. 11, law enforcement far too often finds itself left alone on the front line of defense.

Failure to Communicate

The team of Deloitte & Touche, IBM and Merrill Lynch consultants recently completed its pro bono assessment of the NYPD computer and communications system. While their report has not been made public, according to Gilmartin and other members of the department, the team recommended:

  • Establishing a technology steering committee consisting of the department's top managers, including Kelly, Libutti, McCarthy and Gilmartin, as well as Chief of the Department Joseph Esposito; Chief of Patrol Nicolas Estavillo; Chief of Detectives William Allee; and Chief of the Organized Crime Control Bureau William Morange, the former chief of patrol under Kerik.

  • Opening a program management office to coordinate all projects within the Office of Technology and Systems Development, the department's computer and communications operation.

  • Upgrading the department's current network to a new wide area network, which could allow the rapid transmission of large case files and mug shots.

  • Equipping all patrol cars with laptop computers for data input and access, which would give cops the ability to send in data from the street, such as incident reports, for immediate analysis and dissemination. Gilmartin is planning to equip the cars with Panasonic Toughbook computers as part of a $34 million computer dispatch program that the department is starting to implement.

    Gilmartin also says the department is building a data warehouse, which he would not detail. Data warehouses serve as a single, unified repository of organizational data. Either in batches on a regular schedule or in real time as transactions are committed, data is extracted from multiple databases and loaded into the warehouse, where it can be poked and prodded without database administrators having to worry about the integrity of the original information.

    That mound then becomes a perfect tool for a big organization looking for patterns in seeming unrelated data.

    "We're looking to file the information in that database in such a way [that] it's readily accessible for crime analysis and planning, in the field as well as in headquarters," says Gilmartin, who contends the data warehouse could be up within a year.

    As Gilmartin aims to increase the data sharing within his department, he's also looking for ways to speed the information flow between the NYPD and state and federal agencies. Right now, the main NYPD data connection with the state is through the New York State Police Information Network, a New York state repository of motor vehicle information that's linked up to the FBI's National Crime Information Center. The NCIC is a computerized index of information on wanted and missing persons, gang members, and members of terrorist organizations, as well as stolen cars, boats, guns and securities.

    There are some other information channels, such as the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) that the FBI has set up with the NYPD and numerous other police departments. But the communication between these organizations happens over the phone or in person, limiting the scope and speed of the information sharing. While the New York Police and the bureau have been working under the JTTF banner for 20 years, the NYPD long has had a problem communicating with the FBI. This, even though the bureau routinely will trail fugitives and other criminals into one of the city's five boroughs.

    The problem surfaced publicly in late September. The news operation of the National Broadcasting Co., which is based in midtown Manhattan, received letters thought to be laced with anthrax. After the first one, NBC called the FBI. About a week later, a second letter arrived at NBC's Rockefeller Center offices. This time, NBC security personnel called the NYPD.

    An NYPD team arrived on the scene and, according to Kerik, learned about the first letter "sort of by accident." One of the network's staffers casually mentioned that they had received an earlier anthrax letter. Kerik was dumbfounded. He couldn't believe the FBI wouldn't share this information with the commissioner of the New York Police Department.

    "We didn't know about it," he says. "Had [the FBI] sent us something, or told us, or called us, or something, the second one would have never happened. We'd have picked up on it."

    "One of the worst kept secrets in law enforcement is the chronic lack of communications between federal and local authorities," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in a December opening statement before a Courts Subcommittee on information sharing. "This problem was never clearer and never more threatening than when anthrax was discovered at the NBC Studios in New York. The FBI knew about it for days. But they failed to tell the NYPD. And it's quite possible that because of that lack of communication, steps that could have been taken to protect the public, weren't."

    Other officials around the country have their own FBI data-sharing challenges.

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