Technology Talk: FirstNet - Delivering 21st Century Tools to Law Enforcement By Mike Bostic, FirstNet Senior Law Enforcement Advisor
Reprinted from Police Chief Magazine, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 1, page 76, January 2017. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc., 44 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 200, Alexandria, VA 22314. Further reproduction without express permission from IACP is strictly prohibited.
Recently, law enforcement professionals from across the world gathered in San Diego, California, for the annual IACP Conference and Exposition. Among many noteworthy issues discussed at this year’s conference, were several sessions that touched on how law enforcement can integrate new technologies and applications in their jobs to improve communications and overall safety.
As broadband technologies evolve, law enforcement continues to break new ground. For some law enforcement agencies, gone are the days when officers have to trek back to the station and write reports. They can remotely upload their citations using mobile devices in the field. Some patrol cars now operate as field offices to meet the data needs of the modern officer, and, with the introduction of body-worn cameras, every minute of an officer’s day might involve technology.
However, even if agencies have implemented these developments, they often find themselves playing catch-up trying to meet the ever-changing demands of the way police need to operate today.
For example, there are more than 286 million Internet users in the United States. These users are consuming data at exponential rates—downloading movies and emails, live-streaming television, surfing the web, sharing on social media, and gaming. This creates a bandwidth crunch that slows Internet speeds for all users, from the teenager who is video chatting with a friend to the connected officer in the field. When officers’ communications are slowed down, it can also drag down their emergency response times. Slow connection speeds can inhibit an officer’s ability to receive call information from dispatch and access GPS directions to the next call. It can also create a lag when officers are trying to recall the GPS locations of their back-up units.
IACP passed a resolution in December demonstrating its strong continued support for FirstNet and the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (Network).
Read FirstNet CEO Mike Poth’s statement on IACP’s resolution in support of FirstNet.
The bottom line is that, while technology can help police do their job, the field still has a long way to go. It simply doesn’t make sense for law enforcement officers to compete with millions of commercial users for bandwidth in situations where so much is at risk.
A solution to this situation is on the way, thanks to a U.S. congressional plan, to set aside a large swath of spectrum in the 700 MHz band—considered the “beachfront property” of mobile airwaves—to create a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) for first responders. The U.S. Congress also established FirstNet, which stands for the First Responder Network Authority, to ensure the build out of this NPSBN in all U.S. states and territories and Washington, D.C.
Once built, the NPSBN will carry high-speed data, location information, images, and video that can mean all the difference when seconds count. Just as smartphones have created a new era of real-time information and connectivity for individuals, the FirstNet network will enable services, devices, and applications that provide the public safety community with the tools they need to save lives.
The FirstNet team is focused on making sure this network will meet the needs of its users: public safety personnel. FirstNet has been working with all of the states, territories, tribes, and public safety associations in the United States to learn more about what the law enforcement community needs from this network, and these organizations are excited about the benefits the network will deliver.