Journal No. 252 • July 2005
Special Technologies for Law Enforcement and Corrections
by William Falcon
Detecting minute traces of drugs in or on inmate mail.
Overcoming incompatible agency data systems to forge statewide
computerized information sharing. Predicting where an offender
might reside based on mapping crime scenes. These formidable
objectives are being achieved thanks to some unusual technologies
now available to law enforcement and corrections agencies.
But the process of identifying and evaluating such technologies,
much less developing or adapting them, is usually extremely
difficult, at best, for individual agencies to undertake
without assistance. Most public safety agencies lack the
staff and money to follow all of the new and emerging technologies,
to gain access to the evaluations and reports on what works,
to engage in long-term technology training, and to consult
with technical experts.
Thats why NIJ established the National Law Enforcement
and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) systemto
offer no-cost technology assistance to State and local agencies.
(For more information about NLECTC, see Nationwide
Technology Assistance for Public Safety Agencies)
This article describes a few of the special technologies
being developed in three regional facilities: Border Research
and Technology Center (BRTC), NLECTCNorthwest, and
Detecting Drug Contraband: Inmate Mail and Vehicles
Trace amounts of illicit drugs on or in inmate mail often
reflect highly imaginative methods of concealing the contraband.
They include injecting cocaine into the ink of a gel pen,
placing drops of liquefied LSD on the envelope (including
its glue) or on stationery where the drug can be absorbed
and dried, putting a stamp or sticker over dried drops of
methamphetamine, or hiding shreds of marijuana behind an
address label. Inmates consume the drugs by eating their
mail or use the drugs for currency or other
Confronted with an ongoing struggle to detect drugs hidden
in inmate mail, a jail facility in Pima County, Arizona,
contacted San Diego, California-based BRTC, whose mission
is to strengthen security technology capabilities and awareness
along the Nations borders. In response, a team from
Sandia National Laboratories, which operates BRTC, conducted
a 3-day experiment at the jail to determine the feasibility
of using available trace drug detection equipment: a hand-portable
unit (Hound II system, 24 pounds) developed by Sandia National
Laboratories, and a benchtop detector (Barringer IONSCAN
400B, 47 pounds) suitable for use at a fixed location only.
Both types of equipment performed well in the mailroom
setting, finding traces of methamphetamine, LSD, cocaine,
and marijuana on and in about 10 percent of incoming inmate
mail. The units
can also detect heroin, PCP, THC, and other drugs at subnanogram
levels. To detect trace amounts, the units functioned in
swipe mode; that is, the operator swiped the surface of
the item with a cloth-like medium and inserted the sample
into the detector for analysis and identification.
Analysis time ranged from 4 to 10 seconds. If drugs were
present, the detectors identified the substance and automatically
alerted the operator. Such detectors could not, however,
distinguish between mail contaminated by drugs or merely
touched by persons who had handled drugs.
Because Hound II is portable, one unit can be used at multiple
locations. For example, mail from inmates legal representatives,
whether valid or bogus, must be delivered to the addressee
without being opened. The Hound II allows officers to sample
such legal mail after inmates have opened it.
Jail personnel can also carry the unit to locations where
inmates might try to smuggle drugs into the jail after returning
from work furlough or from meetings with visitors.
The portability feature of Hound II also permits it to
be used to detect drugs in vehicles, as demonstrated in
field tests. At a checkpoint in Texas, for example, agents
of the South Texas Specialized Crimes and Narcotics Task
Force use dogs for initial screening of vehicles. After
a dog indicates the presence of drugs in a vehicle, it is
directed to a secondary inspection area. When Hound II sniffed
the steering wheel and door handles of one such vehicle,
traces of heroin were detected. The main shipment was found
in half of a renovated oil pan.
Hound II may also be of use at seaports, where dogs
performance may be hindered by the extremely hot and dusty
conditions in ships holds. Detection could be focused
on both drugs and explosives, because Hound IIs commercial
detector (see note 2) can
detect either, depending upon the type of detection module
inserted into the unit (about 1 hour is required for a module
change). Other sites that could benefit from Hound II include
schools, airports, embassies, military bases, and other
sensitive facilities. Recently, a State agency contacted
BRTC Director Chris Aldridge to ask whether Hound II technology
would be of use in verifying cleanup of meth labs.
Sandia National Laboratories reports that Hound II features
include ease and speed of operation, high sensitivity, and
a low false alarm rate. Training requirements for Hound
II are considered minimal. Cost, however, is not, at approximately
$74,000. A much less expensive, and less weighty, version
is under development at Sandia National Laboratories: MicroHound,
when commercialized, will have an estimated per-unit cost
of between $5,000 and $10,000, with a weight of approximately
12 pounds (half the weight of the current Hound II). For
more information about both Hound versions, contact BRTC
or Sandia National Laboratories, Department 4148, Albuquerque,
Achieving Interoperability and Coping With Harsh Winter
In summer 2002, a member of the advisory council of Anchorage-based
asked Center Director Bob Griffiths to demonstrate what
appeared to be a highly effective law enforcement information-sharing
system. The system uses software that enables otherwise
incompatible data systems to communicate with one another.
Following a successful demonstration, the advisory council
listed interoperability as a top priority. In May 2003,
the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police voted to pursue
data interoperability throughout the State and asked NLECTCNorthwest
Thus, ALEISSthe Alaska Law Enforcement Information-Sharing
Systemwas under way. NLECTCNorthwest facilitated
the formation of ALEISS, which at this writing consists
of seven agencies, by helping to prepare a memorandum of
understanding detailing privacy, security, and responsibility
protocols to govern future use and operation of the system.
NLECTCNorthwest also assisted in hardware acquisition,
installed it in a secure room at the center, and agreed
to maintain the system until ALEISS graduates from interoperability
and information-sharing demonstration to operation.
The heart of ALEISS is CopLink, interoperability software
that can be used to create interagency, regional, or multistate
CopLink, developed with assistance from an NIJ grant, enables
vast quantities of seemingly unrelated data, currently housed
and scattered among incompatible agency record management
systems, to be organized within and accessed through a single,
highly secure Intranet. Each participating agency exercises
real-time control over what data are shared, with whom,
and when. Data continue to reside with and to be updated
at the existing source.
Now deployed in more than 100 jurisdictions nationwide,
CopLink creates a detailed audit trail for each search conducted.
The trail helps officers justify warrant requests and system
administrators identify user practices that violate privacy
and other protocols established by participating agencies
in accordance with local, State, and Federal laws.
Dubbed GoogleTM for law enforcement,
CopLink speeds identification of criminal suspects, relationships,
and patterns. Underlying CopLink is the premise that most
crimes are committed by people who already appear in police
records, perhaps as a gang member or sex offender, perhaps
in mug shot archives, prison and arrest records, court citations,
pawn shop records, or lists of outstanding motor vehicle
violations. CopLink allows an officer to enter a small piece
of informationa tattoo, nickname, or letter on a license
platethat the software will use to search the databases
of participating agencies and find other potential pieces
of the puzzle, perhaps leading to one or more suspects.
Just as ALEISS is the first effort in the Nation to form
a statewide interoperable data-sharing system for law enforcement,
so also is NLECTCNorthwests winter-tire testing
project a first. Both activities exemplify the Centers
mission to focus attention on the specialized information
and operational technologies needed by law enforcement and
corrections agencies operating under the extreme weather
conditions and across the vast distances in Alaska and other
sections of the country.
The impetus for winter-tire testing came from Center staff.
Other agencies quickly saw the value of the project and
offered their support. So in February 2004, NLECTCNorthwest
tested the pursuit-rated winter tires recommended for use
on the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. The test
compared winter tires with the less expensive all-season
tire supplied with Police Interceptors. The latter tire
is often favored by agencies because of tight budgets. Test
participants included the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
Canadian Police Research Centre, Ford Motor Company, U.S.
Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, and
the Tekne Group. Among test results:
- A set of four matching winter tires, rated for severe
snow conditions, works best for winter driving. Every brand
of winter tire tested, even the worst, performed significantly
better than the all-season tire supplied with the vehicle.
- Winter tires at 50 percent of normal tread depth delivered
superior performance in snow compared to the all-season
tires supplied with the vehicle.
- A mismatch of tires (e.g., winter tires for rear wheels
and all-season for front) can cause unstable vehicle handling
and should be avoided.
Another winter-related research project investigated the
best method for coating, casting, and photographing evidence
in the form of snow impressions, such as those made by shoes
and tires. The State of Alaska Crime Laboratory conducted
the research. NLECTCNorthwest helps disseminate the
Crime Mapping: Tracking Offender from Crime Scene to
With its focus on information technology, NLECTCSoutheast
has been providing geographic profiling assistance to law
enforcement for several years. Such profiling helps agencies
understand how an offender traverses an area in search of
victims. This involves consideration of a wide range of
factors, including the locations of businesses, faith-based
organizations, unemployment pockets, and crime scenes.
Feedback from NLECTCSoutheasts advisory council
to Center Director Thomas Sexton indicated that commercially
available geographic profiling models were well beyond the
reach of law enforcement agencies because of cost and training-time
considerations. Software cost was about $60,000 and training
time generally 1 year. The Center worked with the technology
provider to streamline its profiling model to lower the
cost to about $6,000 and significantly shorten the training
time for crime analysts.
Subsequently, a sheriffs office in Florida requested
assistance from NLECTCSoutheast (based in North Charleston,
South Carolina) regarding a component of CrimeStat II, a
stand-alone spatial statistics program for the analysis
of crime incident locations. Developed by Houston, Texas-based
Ned Levine & Associates under grants from NIJ, CrimeStat
is free and can be downloaded from the National Archive
of Criminal Justice Data.
The request from the Florida sheriffs office pertained
to a CrimeStat II componentthe journey-to-crime modulewhich
is one aspect of the multifaceted geographic profiling technology.
The module assists law enforcement agencies in their investigations
of serial murder, rape, robbery, arson, and other crimes.
On the basis of the location of incidents committed by
the serial offender, the journey-to-crime module makes statistical
guesses about where the criminal is likely to reside. Those
guesses are based on the travel patterns of a sample of
known serial offenders who committed the same type of crime.
On the assumption that a distance relationship exists between
the residences of serial offenders and where they choose
to commit their crimes, the module estimates the distance
serial offenders travel to commit crimes and, by implication,
the likely location from which they begin their journey
CrimeStat III, which was released this year, is characterized
as a big leap forward. It can analyze travel patterns not
only for serial offenders but for multiple offenders committing
single crimes. According to the programs developers,
CrimeStat III will convey a much better understanding of
criminal travel activity.
NATIONWIDE TECHNOLOGY ASSISTANCE
FOR PUBLIC SAFETY AGENCIES
Operated by the Office of Science & Technology at NIJ,
the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology
Center (NLECTC) system consists of a national center and
several regional centers and offices. They serve as honest
brokers, offering a wide range of technology assistance
to State and local law enforcement and corrections personnel.
The regional centers and offices partner with technology-oriented
organizations and are often co-located with them. Through
those partnerships, NLECTC staff access the latest innovations
in research and development. The regional facilities form
a coordinated network helping agencies identify, test, demonstrate,
acquire, adapt, and implement not only new technologies
but also new applications of existing technologies. The
network also provides scientific and engineering advice
and helps innovators and industry develop, manufacture,
and distribute new innovative products and technologies
applicable to public safety.
NLECTC Point of Contact
A wide range of NLECTC information, including links to Web
sites of the regional centers and offices, can be found at
- Reference in this article to any specific commercial product,
process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer,
or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its
endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States
Government, any agency thereof, or any of their contractors
- The Hound II is a sample collection and pre-concentration
device that works with a commercial chemical detector, the
GE IonTrack VaporTracer. The VaporTracer detector is based
on ion trap mobility spectrometry. The Barringer IONSCAN
400B (acquired by Smiths Detection) is based on ion mobility
spectrometry. Both units detect trace amounts of explosives
as well as drugs.
- Sandia National Laboratories personnel first conducted
a survey of the jails mail room to determine whether
existing background drug contamination from previous mail
would interfere with use of the drug detector equipment.
Results indicated insignificant contamination. Thus, subsequent
detection of drugs on or in inmate mail could not be attributed
to cross-contamination left by earlier mail. Some outgoing
inmate mail also contained drugs.
- The portable unit also operates in a vapor mode, detecting
drug vapors emanating from within an envelope or package.
- A report, Contraband Detection in the Pima County Jail
Mail Room, prepared by Sandia National Laboratories
Gary W. Shannon (December 23, 2002), discusses the use of
Hound II and Barringer IONSCAN 400B. Available only to corrections
and law enforcement agencies, the report may be requested
on an agencys official letterhead and addressed to
Contraband Detection Report, BRTC, 1010 Second Avenue, Suite
1920, San Diego, CA 921014912. Or fax the request
to 888660BRTC. Inclusion of the requesting agencys
email address would be appreciated.
- NLECTCNorthwest began operations in 2001 in partnership
with Chenega Technology Corporation, a technology support
- Prototype work on CopLink began in 1996 at the Artificial
Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Arizona in
partnership with the Tucson (Arizona) Police Department.
The commercial version is available from Tucson-based Knowledge
- After a review of the testing and its results, researchers
will finalize their report on test findings, methodology,
and other details. The report is scheduled for dissemination
- For more information, see Hammer, Lesley, and James Wolfe,
Shoe and Tire Impressions in Snow: Photography and
Casting, Journal of Forensic Identification, 56(6)
(NovemberDecember 2003): 647655.
- CrimeStat can be downloaded from http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/CrimeStat/.
For additional information on crime mapping and related
software, consult NIJs MAPS program (Mapping &
Analysis for Public Safety) at http://www.nij.gov/topics/technology/maps.
- The sampling and its analysis are part of the process
of calibrating the journey-to-crime module to the characteristics
of a given community. The Florida sheriffs office
asked NLECTCSoutheast to assist in that task.