National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-DC Public Safety-200,000 Requests a Month

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is D.C. Public Safety. I am your host, Leonard Sipes. We have I think one of the more interesting shows that we’re going to do this year. Joe Russo, Assistant Director of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center under the National Institute of Justice, is here today to talk about all things technology as it applies to corrections. Before getting onto Joe, again, our usual commercial thanking everybody. We are up to 200,000 requests on a monthly basis for D.C. Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. You are free to comment on any part of the show that you want, whether it be positive or negative, or critical or advisory. If you want to get in touch with me directly, it is Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P-E-S@csosa .gov. You can follow us via Twitter at Twitter.com/lensipes L-E-N-S-I-P-E-S or you can simply comment, as so many of you do, within the comment section for the radio and television shows for the blog and transcripts, at media M-E-D-I-A.csosa C-S-O-S-A.gov. CSOSA stands for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal parole and probation agency in Washington, D.C. Back to our guest, Joe Russo, Assistant Director of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center. Joe, welcome to D.C. Public Safety.

Joe Russo: Hi, Len, good to be with you.

Len Sipes: Joe, when I was with the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, which is the Department of Justice’s clearing house years ago, and I moved over to the National Crime Prevention Council. One of the things that really – people were really interested in technology. It was the most popular topic, or certainly one of the most popular topics, so give us a sense as to what the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center does.

Joe Russo: Well, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is a program under the National Institute of Justice, and for the benefit of the listeners, the N.I.J. is the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. It falls beneath the Office of Justice Programs, and some listeners might know of agencies like the Bureau of Justice Assistance. These agencies all fall under the Office of Justice Programs, and N.I.J. is one of those programs. Traditionally, N.I.J., as you know, Len, was a social science agency. They focused on criminology issues, crime prevention, crime and delinquency strategies, that sort of thing. Back in the early ’90s, N.I.J., as you kind of mentioned, alluded to, got involved, as well as a number of other agencies, in technology, and became interested in how technology can support and enhance mission performance of our criminal justice agencies. So at that time, they created an Office of Science and Technology, which was a parallel to the research side, which is the Office of Research and Evaluation. And the Office of Science and Technology was interested in specifically developing tools and technologies for law enforcement and corrections – cops, corrections officers, probation officers on the street. And one of the major thrusts was that law enforcement and corrections is an under served market. There was not a lot of infrastructure or technology development specifically for that purpose. So part of N.I.J.’s mission through this organization, the Office of Science and Technology, was to help support the development of new tools. Now, within Office of Science and Technology, back in the early ’80s, they created the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, and as a long way to answer your question, the role of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is to provide support, technology assistance, to the state and local agencies primarily on how to use technology, how to implement it, what types of technologies are out there, how N.I.J. can support, state and locally, these missions through the development of new technologies.

Len Sipes: You know, all you have to do, Joe, is to watch CSI, crime scene investigation, and you learn everything that you need to know about the available technology for law enforcement and corrections by watching CSI, correct? And I’m not going to let you answer that question; I have the hardest time watching these programs, because their reality and our reality are two different realities, it seems to me.

Joe Russo: There’s a big gap between fact and fiction, that’s for sure.

Len Sipes: Yeah, I stopped watching cop shows of any sort a long time ago, simply because I’m sitting back going, “If we even had this stuff that they say that they have, it’s just – the gap is huge.” But the point is that the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is there to try to close that gap, to try to bring what is relevant, what is meaningful, to the law enforcement and criminal justice community. That’s the bottom line, so instead of a police department or a correctional agency somewhere in the United States, or even beyond the borders of the United States, trying to say to themselves, “What is it about global positioning and technology, in terms of tracking criminal offenders” Instead of calling all over the place, you guys pretty much have the sense as to what works and what doesn’t and what’s upcoming, correct?

Joe Russo: Yeah, that’s basically our mission is to have our finger on the pulse of not only what’s out there, what’s working, what’s not working, but also what’s on the horizon. We talked about the CSI factor, and it’s interesting almost from a philosophical perspective, in terms of what’s the potential of technology? You know, practitioners like you and I understand that that’s not the current reality, but one of the important missions of the N.I.J. and the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is to always be aware the potentials of technologies that are not quite available yet but may have the potential for corrections in the future. That’s a critical role of ours.

Len Sipes: So, Joe, you’ve been in the system for how long? You’ve been there for, what, quite a few years, because I’ve been interacting with you for quite a few years. You’ve been with there as Assistant Director for how long?

Joe Russo: I’ve been with the system for thirteen years now.

Len Sipes: Wow, and do you have a background in corrections and law enforcement and technology? How did you end up being there?

Joe Russo: I do. My background is in corrections, primarily. I grew up in the New York area, New York City area, and my employment after college and my master’s degree was with the New York City Department of Corrections, where I helped run the police program on Rikers Island.

Len Sipes: Wow.

Joe Russo: And from there, I went on to the New York City Department of Probation, where I helped implement alternative to incarceration programs and helped with a major re-engineering effort that they were going through at that point in time.

Len Sipes: And that was a major re-engineering effort, so you have real-world experience, plus your years there at the center, correct?

Joe Russo: Exactly.

Len Sipes: All right, and I think that’s important for people to understand – that the center is basically staffed with and advised by people in the field on a day-to-day basis, so you do advisory panels, you consult with people throughout the United States as to what the experience is in Missouri, or the experience is in New York City, and not only do you have your own real-world experience, you’re constantly being advised by people throughout the country and beyond in terms of what their needs are, correct?

Joe Russo: Absolutely, and that’s a very important point. You know, everything that N.I.J. does, whether it’s technology or social science, it has to be practitioner-driven and informed by current requirements and current experience. So, my experience in New York City, while it was interesting and it’s my personal background, may not be particularly relevant to what’s going on right now, so it’s very important that we tie back to the practitioner community and understand their needs and what they’re doing through.

Len Sipes: The website for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is www.justnet.org, www.justnet.org. How do you set the priorities, Joe? I mean, how does N.I.J. set the priorities? We were just talking about that a couple seconds, so, you know, there is an emerging sense within the correctional community that global positioning system monitoring, GPS monitoring, satellite tracking of criminal offenders is something that we really do need to do, really need to investigate. I know it has strong limitations, and we try, when we talk about it, not to sell it as a panacea, but that’s something that is certainly of importance to us, along with offender reentry, if there is technology that applies to that. But that’s our priority; that may not be California’s priority, and that might not be the priority for St. Louis, so how does N.I.J. set the priorities in terms of the different things that you guys investigate?

Joe Russo: Good question, Len. Basically, it ties back to my comments about being tied to the practitioner communities, and N.I.J.’s strategy is to establish what they call technology working groups, and these groups are established in about twenty different areas. There’s an institutional corrections technology working group, or TWIC. The federal government has a lot of acronyms. We have one for community corrections and biometrics, sensor surveillance, all kinds of things that you could possibly imagine that have a relevance to the criminal justice community. Basically, these working groups are made up of working professionals, typically mid to upper level management folks, who are interested, or implement, technology issues projects for their agency. They come from all across the country; they represent large agencies, small agencies, state, local – you know, we try to get a good representation, good demographics. And these folks come together twice a year to brainstorm, to talk about what current issues they’re facing, what technologies they’re having difficulty with that could be improved that require improvement, enhancement, what technologies that don’t even exist yet but would address, if they were developed, a critical need. So that’s really their role, is to identify usually a top ten list of the technologies needs from their particular perspective in the field. N.I.J. uses that information to inform their research and development portfolios.

Len Sipes: Now, what are you guys currently working on? So, what’s the consensus around the country right now? What is the country, at least from a corrections side, what is the correctional community asking for now?

Joe Russo: Well, in terms of the requirements on the community corrections side, I’ll touch on a couple of key ones, and it’s one, actually, that you alluded to. It’s related to the GPS or more generically, offender tracking technology. And what these technology working groups have identified the need for is true, continuous offender tracking technology, and we’re talking about something that works indoors and outdoors, that does not have the limitations of current GPS technology. In terms of a solution – and we try not to jump to solutions in this group – we talk about needs. Solution would be more of a hybrid type of system, something that uses satellites as well as terrestrial-based technology, so that you truly have a 24/7 continuous tracking system of an offender no matter where he goes, no matter where he lives. So sort of, let’s make the reality match the hype. That’s sort of what the TWIC is after, there.

Len Sipes: Does that ever bother you guys, by the way, the reality and the hype? Because, you know, a reporter would come along and ask me, “Len, this is not a foolproof system,” and I would pause and say, “Well, I don’t think we ever said it is.” That GPS comes with a wide variety of limitations – I think that you just hit on one – the fact that when you go inside of a building, you’re no longer tracked by that satellite, depending upon the size of the building, and what we do is we do the terrestrial implementations to help continue to track that person within their own home, but I mean, you can’t stop a person from taking the thing off. You can cut through it. There are ways that you can go within the home or a building or a tunnel and not be tracked, and just because you’re tracked doesn’t mean that there’s a person on the other end continuously monitoring your behavior 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In most cases, we don’t track them that continuously. It’s a passive system where we come in the next day and see where the person’s been and whether or not we can tie them into different crime sites. So, you know, we say this all the time. We tell people about the limitations of technology all the time, but I sometimes think that they only hear that he’s being tracked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they’ve watched CSI way too many times, and they assume that that person, that sex offender, if you will, who wanders into a playground, that there’s going to be a parole and probation response immediately. How do you temper public expectations with the realities of the technology?

Joe Russo: That’s a point, and it’s not just news reporters, it’s not just media. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes judges don’t quite understand the technology limitation. Legislators who are passing laws mandating the use of GPS technology don’t fully understand the limitations of technology in some cases, so it is a huge problem, and from our perspective as a technology center, we kind of straddle the fence, there. As a technology, it does exactly what it’s intended to do. It has inherent limitations. It was never developed and never designed to track offenders. It was designed to track military assets in open field, an open area. So for those purposes, it works wonderfully. We’ve tried to adapt it to criminal justice uses, and it works pretty well, but you have to manage the expectations, and that’s the key. We’re talking about uncooperative subjects. We’re talking about criminals who don’t have much incentive to keep their bracelet on if they’re determined to do something they shouldn’t be doing. There is no way to secure, permanently, a bracelet at this point – at least none that we are comfortable with as a society. So I think the key issue is managing expectations, making public the limitations, the inherent limitations of the technology, making public the ability of the technology to supervise people in the community in a more effective way. We have to remember that this is the best technology that we have, the best tool we have, short of incarceration, so there is value. Is it perfect? Far from it. So there is that fine line, and we try to do education every chance we get about balancing those issues, and balancing expectations of all the stakeholders, because ultimately, if the people have the false expectations of the technology and the offender fails or commits a heinous crime, they’re going to point back to the technology and think that that was the problem when in fact, the technology was doing exactly what it was intended to do.

Len Sipes: Once again, I think you can’t go into the movies, and you can’t watch the TV shows without coming away with an inflated sense in terms of what our technology can do, and again, the movie reality and the television show reality is not our reality. I would imagine ours is much more mundane, much more down to Earth, much more workman-like, if you will. All we’re trying to do is to bring tools and provide reasonable expectations in terms of what those tools can do, and once again, I won’t leave you with it. I’ll editorialize. I think sometimes it’s hard to do within a society that has inflated expectations. I think they’ve seen one too many CIA-based movies one too many times. Our guest today – we’re halfway through the program, and it’s Joe Russo. He is the Assistant Director of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center under the National Institute of Justice, under the Office of Justice Programs. All of these fall under the auspices of the United States Department of Justice. The website for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center is www.justnet.org, www.justnet.org. Joe, I think first of all, a lot of us within the corrections and law enforcement community are extraordinarily grateful for N.I.J. taking on this issue, and the Department of Justice across the board taking on this issue, because instead of us – like I said, offender tracking systems – instead of us calling a dozen different states and doing polls, as we used to do earlier in my career, where we sent out letters, snail-mail letters, to the directors of law enforcement and corrections asking them a simple question about a piece of technology, and now all we have to do is basically log on to your website to get pretty much the state of the art, correct?

Joe Russo: Absolutely. You know, our networks are expanded both individually and as an organization. Most agencies do not have the time to thoroughly research technology issues. Many agencies are fairly small, so they really don’t have the resources. N.I.J., through the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, provides that resource for agencies.

Len Sipes: Give me some of the other stuff that you’re working on, Joe.

Joe Russo: Well, we talked a lot about offender tracking systems, and one of the most exciting projects that we’re working on currently is the development of standards for offender tracking technology.

Len Sipes: Ahh.

Joe Russo: In many areas of criminal justice, there is a woeful lack of standards. Body armor has the benefit of having standards, and that’s probably the most high-profile technology that does have a standards program attached to it, but for many other technologies, there are no standards, so we’re kind of at the mercy of the vendor community, and of industry, to kind of do the right thing. With offender tracking, in particular, because of the high-profile nature of GPS and a lot of the sex offender legislation that’s come through, GPS use has grown dramatically. And as we talked about before, their misconceptions about the technology. A lot of vendors are entering the market looking for market share because they see a great opportunity there. So the need was expressed, again, through one of our technology working groups, that the field requires standards in this particular area, so that we have a good understanding of what this technology can and can’t do, how specific technology vendors perform under different metrics. So N.I.J. had undertaken that project to develop standards and protocols for testing different technologies against that standard. We’re currently convening a working group that’s working on this issue on a monthly basis and identifying the key areas of what must be tested and how do we go about testing it in an objective, fair way so that we can get some good outcome data and that ultimately, when an agency has to make a decision about offender tracking technology and what to buy, they have a standard to reference, and they will know what vendors met that standard, and which vendors did not meet the standard.

Len Sipes: And if people doubt the importance of standards, which seems to be a little mundane, every time I put on a bulletproof vest, and I’m assigned one here, and I was assigned one with my old job with Maryland Department of Public Safety, and when I was a police officer a billion years ago, they didn’t have bulletproof vests back then. But every time I put that vest on, I know that it meets a standard set by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center and the National Institute of Justice and I know that those standards have saved people’s lives, and I think that’s one of the most important things for people to understand. Without standards – I mean, this is a criminal justice system made up of thousands upon thousands of individual law enforcement and correctional agencies, and there’s no way that they can set their own standards and N.I.J. pretty much sets those standards and they save lives for police officers, for correctional officers, in the process, and so I think you would agree with that.

Joe Russo: Absolutely. It’s of critical importance. And you know, in the area of offender tracking and other technologies that may not be as critical in terms of individual officer safety as body armor, it only serves to increase confidence in the products, and that only serves to increase the use of these products. If we know that a product meets a standard, agencies are more likely to use those products and technologies. So we think it benefits everyone to establish good standards, particularly where technologies are running out of the gate and expand probably too quickly before good evaluation is conducted, before standards are developed, maybe driven by political impetuses, like some GPS legislation. We need to catch up and establish some good standards so that the practitioners are more of a driver in the whole process.

Len Sipes: Right, because at the moment, we’re at the mercy of the market, and the criminal justice system shouldn’t be at the mercy of the market.

Joe Russo: Exactly right, and we shouldn’t – frankly, we shouldn’t be at the mercy of legislators who mandate the use of technology. Now, I fully support the use of GPS. It’s the best option we have right now for managing high-risk offenders. But the practitioners should be in the driver’s seat, and they should be driving requirements.

Len Sipes: You know, before we go on to the next topic, one of the things that I do want to point out to the public: TechBeat magazine – there are a lot of publications, and I’ll be the first to rant that they’re terrible with a capital ‘T.’ They’re almost unreadable. TechBeat magazine is put out by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center and it is one of the most readable publications – it’s an award-winning publication. It is very, very, very user-friendly, so if you’re sort of put off by government publications, you won’t be put off by TechBeat magazine. This issue just came to my inbox yesterday, and here, you’re talking about deployable crime labs, the fact that you can have not these huge structures on wheels like we used to have, but deployable crime labs to go onto the scene for investigations. One of the more interesting articles in here: facial recognition system, talking about various police departments using facial recognition, and they were able to apprehend dozens and dozens of suspects through facial recognition. I think that that is just really interesting stuff. So again, as I page through this, it’s colorful, it is professionally done. Here is bomb squads, here’s on first responder, to be sure that the credentials of first responders are intact, that they have the proper credentials to get there, to get involved in the scene. And one of my favorite topics: social networking for law enforcement, where it’s beautifully done. YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, myspace.com and talking about how different law enforcement organizations throughout the United States are using social media to better communicate with and serve the public. So I just want to tell and remind everybody, again, if you’re interested in that publication, you go where? To the website: www.justnet.org. Again, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center. We’re into the final minutes of the program, Joe. This is going by way too fast. We’re going to have to have you back in the future. So, we’ve dealt with bulletproof vests, we have stab-proof vests, we have GPS technology. What else, in the final minutes of the program, are you guys working on?

Joe Russo: Well, you know, we also try to obviously maintain a glimpse, or a pulse, of what the future will bring, so that we can be ahead of the curve, and what we’re seeing a lot – and you mentioned social networking – that’s of critical importance. The whole idea of the offender having a virtual life – we are ultimately very interesting in providing probation and parole officers specifically with the tools to be able to monitor offenders’ virtual lives – monitor their computers, monitor their cell phones. Cell phone forensics is becoming a huge, huge issue for probation and parole agencies. Gaming systems – there are a variety of different hardware and software, or hardwares that offenders use to store pornography or any kind of material that they don’t want the officer to know about, so this is a major area in the future that probation and parole need to be exposed to, need to be aware of, and need to have training and the tools to be able to monitor what the offender is doing online. We also see a lot of movement in the area of combining technologies. We’ve already seen vendors marry GPS technology with alcohol tracking technology. So we’re able to detect alcohol use at the same time with the same device as we are able to monitor an offender’s location. You know, we’ll see a lot more of that in the future.

Len Sipes: Wouldn’t that be interesting. So you’re tracking the offender and you’re tracking the offender’s alcohol content. Again, this is remotely. Can we track an offender’s drug use remotely.

Joe Russo: Not currently, and interestingly enough, that’s another one of our technology working groups requirements, that the group that sets forward the critical needs of the field – they asked for the development of continuous remote method of detecting drug technology, or drug use – excuse me – similar to what the SCRAM technology currently does for alcohol use, for example. They would like a corollary that would detect drug use. Right now, I believe that there are some projects in development – the Office of Naval Research has been working on this issue for awhile, but for now, it doesn’t seem that there’s anything viable in the near future. But people are looking at it, and that’s the exciting thing, that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Len Sipes: But we can do it now for alcohol monitoring, correct?

Joe Russo: Absolutely. There are a couple of systems out there right now that do that.

Len Sipes: And that’s coming pretty close to substance abuse monitoring across the board. I think it’s an amazing step that when I entered the criminal justice system forty years ago, in essence, when you were placed on parole and you were placed on probation, we quite frankly had no idea as to where you were, and drug testing and alcohol testing was extraordinarily rare. There is the potential, just around the corner, for continuous monitoring of select offenders and continuous monitoring – real-time monitoring – as to whether or not they’re doing drugs or whether or not they’re doing alcohol. That is an amazing transformation in terms of our ability to keep track of offenders.

Joe Russo: Absolutely, and Len, you hit on a key point. You said “select offenders.” And that’s the important thing that folks should think about when they talk about technology and what we can do, what technology offers the possibility for. You know, there’s the expression, “Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it.” In terms of an environment of diminishing resources, we cannot apply the same level of supervision to all offenders. It doesn’t meet evidence-based practices; it’s not prudent. So when we look at these different technologies, it’s important to select the appropriate technology for the appropriate offender.

Len Sipes: And also, at the same time, in terms of standards, you can keep an offender on that tracking system forever, either. So if you have a person, say, in terms of how we use it, if that person is having a real problem getting a job and we think it’s not a matter of education or training, we think it’s a matter of motivation, we can tell that person, “Well, they’re going to go to day reporting every day, or we’re going to put them on GPS tracking technology,” and you’d be really surprised how fast that offender ends up finding work if you threaten them with GPS technology. So they’ve gone the last six months without a job, and you say, “Okay, well, starting Monday, you’re on GPS technology, and the following Wednesday, they’re employed,” so sometimes, GPS is a great motivator to make sure that people go to drug treatment, to make sure that people do the restitution, to make sure that people are employed. So it’s just not tracking them, it’s also a great motivator to make sure that they get involved in the programs that they’re supposed to be, and when that offender tells you, “Yeah, I was at drug treatment, and he wasn’t,” that becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly. So it’s just not tracking from a law enforcement point of view. It is also ensuring that the offender participates in the programs.

Joe Russo: Absolutely. The ability to provide an offender with structure, by knowing that he’s being tracked, by setting exclusion zones based on time of day, where he can be, where he can’t be, can only help an offender who lacks that internal motivation, that internal structure. So yeah, there’s a benefit – there’s many benefits far and beyond just tracking.

Len Sipes: Well, Joe, we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of what you all do. I’d like to have you on a couple months down the road and to part two of this, and maybe we could bring on somebody from the field that N.I.J. has directly helped in terms of the use of technology, bring on yourself and do an example, a case study of somebody from the field that has actually employed the technology from the National Institute of Justice. So first of all, I want to thank Joe Russo, the Assistant Director of National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center under the National Institute of Justice, under the Office of Justice Programs, part of the United States Department of Justice structure. The website is www.justnet.org, www.J-U-S-T-N-E-T.org. Ladies and gentlemen, this is D.C. Public Safety. Once again, we are extraordinarily appreciative of all the letters, emails, phone calls – I don’t even give out my phone number and you end up finding it anyway. So some of you are more comfortable talking, and that’s fine, but the email is the preferred route, and if we need to get in touch with each other via phone, we can do that after the email. But in any event, keep the comments coming. Really do appreciate it. Leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or Twitter.com/lensipes, or go to the website and comment directly. It is media.csosa.gov. There are four websites: radio, television, blog, and transcripts, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

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