Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Technology Tornado - Criminal Justice Meets the Wizard of Oz

That was the title for a series of three lectures I delivered to the CRIM 382 - Organization and Adminstration class at Eastern Washington University in November 2004. I chose that title because the process of applying technology to the criminal justice system resembles a tornado: Lots of stuff happening and flying around all over the place with a lot of criminal justice administrators hoping a house doesn't fall on them in the process! Except for the newspaper article cited below, this material came from my own career experiences as an end-user and supervisor.

The article headlined Post Falls police to try 'e-citations' in The Spokesman-Review on August 26, 2005, touches on the subject very well. The statement, "Technology-savvy employees – and receptive bosses – play a pivotal role in why Idaho's River City has been able to do what larger towns haven't," explains what it takes for agencies to intelligently apply technology. The article goes on to note how the judicious use of technology can save money over the long term.

When used in the context of criminal justice, "technology" can mean almost anything except people. As I've noted in an earlier post, most criminal justice technology evolves, trickles down, from US Department of Defense (DoD) contracts. A lot of DoD technology is advanced but can be scaled down to be affordable for criminal justice programs.

There is a process of applying technology to criminal justice. As in any process, there are steps. I'm going to briefly describe each of the steps, but it is very important to understand that these steps can occur simultaneously rather than sequentially, and they don't necessarily appear in the order listed either.

Step 1: Needs Identification

What technology does the agency need to perform its mission more efficiently and more effectively? Is the technology a need or a want?

Here's a warning: Some law enforcement administrators are easily "gee-whizzed". That means they or their grant-writers rely far too heavily on marketing literature and product vendors in the "needs identification" phase. They see a technology that causes them to say, "Gee whiz, this is really neat!", and then try to find a reason to buy the technology. It is critical that administrators identify the problem before seeking a solution. Avoid being gee-whizzed by technology, buying it, and then trying desperately to find a problem it will solve. Technology acquisition must nearly always be driven by a defined need, not simply by the availability of the technology.

Administrators must distinguish between applications technology and exploitation technology . Applications technology is something an agency acquires to use against a bad guy. Exploitation technology exploits something the bad guy is using and turns it against him. Here are two very simple examples. An audio transmitter worn by an undercover agent for safety and evidence gathering during a meeting with a bad guy is an example of an application technology. A nonconsensual wire or nonwire interception of a bad guy's emails is an example of exploitation technology, because the bad guy is using technology for communications and the agency is using technology to exploit those communications. Administrators must also be aware that a technologically astute bad guy can sometimes exploit criminal justice technology to his own benefit.

When it comes to technology needs identification, criminal justice administrators are faced with a quandry: How do I anticipate (read: budget for) needs five to ten years down the road when the technologies available change significantly more quickly? There's no easy answer to that.

Step 2: Research

Ongoing research by criminal justice administrators (or their technical support unit) is absolutely essential.

Research helps determine what technologies will best address current and future needs.

Research is essential to accurately assess how agency employees will accept or reject particular technologies. Will employees learn? Can they be taught to use the technology effectively and comfortably? Will employees embrace the technology or will they feel threatened by it?

Research is heavily dependent on feedback from current and prospective end-users.

Will technologies being considered be interoperable with other agencies' technologies? For example, it might be prudent for agencies to consider eXtensible Markup Language (XML) in data communications systems. Future radiocommunications equipment will need to meet the APCO Project 25 (P25) standard.

Research often raises prickly questions for administrators. Here's one: Once employees have accepted the technology and have found out how much it improves the quality, quantity, timeliness, and convenience of their job, is their demand for more going to exceed the administrator's ability to deliver? Yes, the heroin addict model does apply here, too.

Step 3: Law, Ethics, and Morality of Technology

  • Why is it even important to address the law, ethics, and morality of technology?
    Judges may refuse to accept the results of technology they question or don't understand. Administrators must ensure that employees offering technology evidence educate prosecutors and judges.
  • If technology is knowingly abused by criminal justice practioners, legislators may outlaw that particular technology even if it is scientifically valid.
  • Legislators must also be educated about technology so they do not write bad laws that impose unreasonable standards or unfunded mandates.
  • If the public questions the morality of a particular technology being used by criminal justice agencies, the public may begin to exert political influence on the agency to discontinue its use.
The development and availability of technology for criminal justice administration often occurs faster than the social or legal constraints that regulate it. For example, "spam" and "spyware" appeared on personal computers long before legislators even knew it existed.

Here's another example: Cloned cellular telephones were being produced for at least two years before remedial legislation was passed to make cellular telephone cloning illegal.

Criminal justice administrators contemplating using technology must consider the consequences if the public does not understand or misunderstands the technology. The OJ Simpson trial jury's failure to understand the statistical reliability of the DNA evidence presented in his trial is an example of such a consequence.

Agency personnel have an ethical obligation to ensure the technology is not misued or abused in a way that deceives the public.

Step 4: Policy Development and Compliance

Why do agencies need policies in place before implementing a technology?

  • Policy development ensures (or forces) agencies to focus on how technology's capabilities will or won't help the agency meet its objectives and requirements.
  • Policies define the agency's objectives in applying the technology.
  • Policies clearly articulate the lawful and ethical use of the technology and establishes remedial actions for violations.
  • Policies provide a basis for training on the application of the technology.
  • Policies guide future procurements.
With consistent, clear policies in place, there can be consistent policy review after every incident of reported misuse to determine if misuse occurred, and if it did, why?
Policy must be trained consistently and understood by both users and supervisors.
Policy formulation can stress out administrators and policy writers. How much understanding and acceptance of the technology is needed to formulate practical, understandable, lawful policy? For example, should some luddite who refuses to use computers, let alone the Internet, be writing policy on the use of data interception technology?

Step 5: Procurement Process

You must consider all costs including initial procurement, maintenance, and replacement.   Many companies provide lower initial procurement costs but may require a long-term maintenance and storage contract.  Make sure you understand all the costs over the useful life of the equipment.

Which is more appropriate: Custom-designed technology or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology?

Generally, COTS should be used whenever possible. Custom design means higher research and development costs, longer development time, and higher manufacturing costs. Acquiring COTS technology should also enhance interoperability. Custom design may reduce flexibility, increase complexity, reduce end-user friendliness and thus increase training costs. COTS technology is usually easier and cheaper to modify, upgrade, and maintain. In short, use custom design only in those exceptionally rare instances when it is the most appropriate method.

What about sole-source versus competitive bidding? Sole-sourcing usually results in faster delivery and in getting exactly the product you want. Sole-sourcing may be valid when the technology is already being used successfully by other agencies with whom the technology's result must be shared or where joint technology training (e.g., POST) is mandated. For example, the US intelligence community members with technical surveillance countermeasures program all use pretty much the same equipment and are all trained at the same schools. But competitive bidding usually results in lower costs. It also encourages competition to improve their product lines to adapt to the criminal justice market. Ultimately, it is up to the criminal justice administrator to reconcile the differences between procurement practices and, of course, to comply with agency procurement policies.

There are a couple questions that criminal justice administrators must consider when procuring technology.

First, must administrators streamline the procurement policies and practices to take advantage of newer proven technologies? Depending n the cost and the agency's procurement regulations and practices, procurment actions may take several months from inception to completion. In the case of long-term programs, the procurement action may take over a year.

Second, if an administrator expedites the procurement of technology, what message does that send to employees who manage behavioral programs? There is anecdotal evidence strongly suggesting that law enforcement administrators are usually quicker to accept and fund "gadgets and toys" than "people programs".

Step 6: Training

Training is essential for technology to be accepted and used cost-effectively.

Training on the supervision and use of technology should begin immediately after the technology has been received by the agency, the acceptance testing has been completed, and the technology has been department-certified for deployment. Training must occur before deployment of the technology.

Training in technology should not necessarily be completely designed and delivered by the technology's vendor who is already intimately familiar with the technology's capabilities, limitations, and operation. Too often the "experts" from the vendor already know how to use the technology, and so they incorrectly assume that the new users know more than they do. In general, technology providers should train recipient agency personnel to provide pre-service and in-service training on the technology. This will increase the comfort factor for the end-users.

Step 7: Deploying the Technology

Administrators need to consider when and how you will deliver the technology to the end users. Generally, deployment must occur just before the pre-service training is completed. Excessive lag time between completion of training and deployment of technology will result in degraded employee performance. Employees need to have the technology in place for them to begin to use as soon as they've completed their training.

Administrators must also consider how they will account for the technology once it has been deployed. This sounds absurdly easy, but it may not be. For example, if you don't know which computers have a particular applications software installed, how can you be sure all computers have the current version of software? Knowing what you have and being able to find it is crucial.

Step 8: Supervising Technology Users

Mr. or Ms. Administrator, how do you intend to prepare your supervisors to ensure
  • Compliance with applicable laws and policies governing the technology
  • Effecient and effective use of the technology
  • Reduction in careless handling, poor maintenance, and abuse of the technology
  • Objective measurement of the results of the technology's application
  • Meaningful feedback from end users
  • Correction of end users' use when necessary?
Step 9: Measurement of How Well or How Poorly Technology Meets Identified Needs

This is a formal step that is too often overlooked completely or done poorly. But how can an administrator justify asking for funding to continue or expand a technology's use, or how can an administrator explain why a technology is no longer valid, if the administrator has not objectively measured the technology's performance in fulfilling the department's needs and objectives?

Here is where the social scientists can help develop objective, meaningful, and statistically valid ways to measure the technology's effectiveness. They can also point to where changes are needed.
The measurers and measurement techniques must clearly elicit what the end users, the supervisors, and the administrators are really saying about the technology. For example, in a department reported unfavorable results with the technology, were the results due to a technology problem or a people problem? They must also determine if the boss has been "gee whizzed" by the end users who have fallen in love with the technology because it's neat, even though it doesn't meet the desired objectives or the agency's needs.

Step 10: User and Supervisor Feedback

Honest, complete, and valid user and line supervisor feedback is crucial. Administrators must emphasize that constructive but apparently unfavorable feedback will usually not kill a technology program but may cause it to be modified and the defects corrected.

Not matter how neat or sexy the technology is, no matter how it impresses the city council or the local news media, if it doesn't meet the needs and expectations of the end users and the line supervisors, it will not reach its full potential without modification.

Administrators must seek constructive feedback from end users and line supervisors after they have used the technology for a reasonable time. Very often, end users and supervisors who have enthusiastically applied the technology will report back additional uses they've discovered. After validation, these uses need to be incorporated into policy and training programs.

Step 11: Preventive and Remedial Maintenance

Administrators, do not overlook the cost of preventive and remedial maintenance when you are considering technology solutions. Here are four considerations:
  • Who will perform the maintenance? Will it be done in-house or will it be contracted out? Is the technology so specialized that maintenance can be performed only by a highly-skilled left-handed technician in Lithuania, and he only works on the second Tuesday of every other month? What if the left-handed Lithuanian dies?
  • How long will the maintenance take? How long can you live without the technology? Are you going to be so dependent on the technology that you must have redundant systems? How readily available are spares and replacements?
  • How much will preventive and remedial maintenance cost? If you're doing in-house maintenance, you must factor in costs for personnel, training, test and service equipment, documentation, parts, etc.
  • How long will the original manufacturer and the vendor continue to support the technology? What happens to your program when the support stops? What is the company's track record?
Step 12: Upgrades and Replacement

If you, Mr. or Ms. Administrator, are a personal computer owner, you are already familiar with this dilemma. Now multiply your periodic frustration by a factor of n for the number of similar technology units in your agency, and you've got the makings of another headache. Here's what you need to ask:
  • How often will upgrades occur? Must my agency have every upgrade?
  • How often will obsolescence occur and complete replacement become necessary?
  • How long will the technology supplier continue to support my current version of technology? What happens when support stops?
  • How will I as an administrator deal with the unexpected problem of immediate replacement if a technology is suddenly outlawed or becomes prematurely obsolete?
Step 13: Miscellaneous Headaches

Here are three additional issues for your consideration:
  • Is it reasonable to expect an agency administrator to be technically savvy, or does s/he need expert staffers? If experts are needed, in what fields are their expertises needed? Do you as an administrator replace operational people (e.g., uniformed patrol officers, investigators, correction officers, etc.) with staff experts when your personnel quota is limited?
  • How does a criminal justice agency do long-term planning for technology when technologies change so rapidly?
  • What is a reasonable balance between technological and human resources? How do you, as an administrator, determine that balance? How do you avoid creating conflict within your own organization between employee groups?
The use of technology in criminal justice is not going to decrease. The only real question is whether administrators will have the educational and professional skills necessary to use technology most effectively and appropriately.


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