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RFID-Enabled Badges

Written by Susan Geoghegan

In our post-9/11 world, security concerns have prompted police agencies throughout the United States to upgrade their telecommunications and systems technology. In-vehicle laptops, mobile PDAs, and rugged notebooks are becoming standard issue, while state-of-the-art wireless network infrastructure allows secure, remote access to criminal justice databases. The latest addition to security enhancement is the RFID-enabled police badge, a Radio Frequency IDentification system used primarily for badge inventory management and access control.

An arrest in New York in the spring of 2006 illustrates the importance of badge tracking. On April 25th, customs agents in San Francisco intercepted a package from Taiwan that contained 100 counterfeit U.S. Marshals Services badges. The investigation led ICE agents to Sergio Khorosh, a native of Russia and a naturalized U.S. citizen. On May 9th Khorosh was arrested after agents discovered more than 1,000 high-quality counterfeit badges representing 35 different federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Several days later, ICE issued an advisory to the public warning of the potential danger that could be caused by the use of counterfeit badges.

Understanding RFID Technology

Radio frequency identification tags were developed in the 1970s, primarily for use in tracking livestock, railroad cars and airline luggage. Since that time, the technology has been fine-tuned and is used for a variety of applications in both business and government. Along with bar codes, smart cards, and voice recognition, RFID is an automatic identification system that uses radio waves to identify objects or people.

The RFID purpose is to improve asset management, increase efficiency, and reduce errors. An RFID tag contains an embedded microchip that stores data, which is read and then transmitted electromagnetically via the tag’s antenna. Once received, the tag sends radio waves back to the reader, which then interprets the frequencies as meaningful data.

Blackinton’s SmartShield

Since 1852, Blackinton has provided quality badges and insignia for law enforcement, fire, rescue, and EMS agencies nationwide. In 2005, the company launched its SmartShield Badge Security System, a revolutionary technology that provides badge validation, personnel verification, and access control. Blackinton takes pride in combining old world craftsmanship with state-of-the-art technology, resulting in a product that streamlines a once arduous procedure—manually tracking police badges.

Traditional police badges have an ID number embossed on the shield, which is assigned to an officer whose information is then manually noted. If a badge is lost or stolen, it can be time consuming to determine the identity of the badge holder, especially if it goes missing out-of-state.
 
Josh Medeiros, senior sales manager for Blackinton, said SmartShield is a direct result of client requests for badge counterfeiting solutions. On-staff engineers worked closely with qualified software partners to develop this cutting-edge technology, which Medeiros points out is still in its infancy.

The SmartShield badge is embedded with a 13.56 multi-gigahertz (MGH) RFID tag that is encoded with a unique ID number. An Electronic Identification (EID) software-enabled RFID reader activates the encoded chip and transmits the information to the reader and database. This user-friendly enforcement identification technology allows for a broad spectrum of security applications and easily integrates with existing access-control security infrastructures.

An officer’s name, badge number, issuance history, and photo are among the information that can be stored in the database. Each agency can tailor the program to suit its specific needs. SmartShield badges come with a rugged RFID transponder, a tamper-proof, embedded chip that stores individual encoding to validate the badge and wearer.

SmartShield’s passive MHz RFID tag complies with the ISO-14443 standard for contactless smart cards that operate at 13.56 MHz in close proximity with a reader antenna. This four-part standard sets communication standards and transmission protocols between card and reader, creating interoperability for all smart card products.

The chip-encoding and parallel software are readable by various devices. One is Datastrip’s DSVII-SC portable handheld, which confirms the identity of the badge wearers, detects fraudulent badges, and provides hardware back-up during network failures. Another is RFIDeas’ Proximity Card Readers for use with proximity cards and contactless smartcards for access control and employee identification. Finally, HID Networked Access provides IP-based access control solutions for remote management.

The process of upgrading to SmartShield technology is fast and easy. Police agencies simply choose a badge style, download and install the EID software, then download and import the SmartShield badge-chip data file (SSd) once the badges are received. SSd archiving is also available with the purchase of an Archive Retrieval Certificate (ARC). For a nominal fee, lost data files can be retrieved and restored in the event of system failure.

Integrating seamlessly with an agency’s current operating system, the SmartShield badge security system offers solutions in the areas of badge control, building access control, roll call and skills inventory, court services, and mustering. For badge control, a scanned badge provides instant identification of the wearer, as well as badge history and inventory. With building access control, reliable, consistent badge validation allows instant access for authorized personnel.

For roll call and skills inventory, badges scanned during roll call quickly identify officer skill sets for efficient deployment of human resources. With court services, date-stamped check-in and check-out at courthouse allows easy resource management. With mustering, a handheld unit used in the field accounts for all resources and provides information for deployment.

Pricing for the SmartShield includes the cost of the badge plus the technology add-ons for an additional $10 to $50, depending on the quantity purchased. This includes the RFID chip-transponder, EID software application (and upgrades), SSd files and records for each badge, custom-configured readers, encoded for the department, SSd archiving on Blackinton servers, and no annual maintenance or licensing fees. The USB desktop reader is priced at $250, and the Mobile Datastrip DSV Reader is $2,500 (cradle with power cord is $250).

SmartShield Deployments

The SmartShield is currently being used in 11 agencies throughout the United States, mostly in law enforcement. Two government organizations, the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Criminal Investigations Division of the IRS, also use this technology.

Three agencies were approached by Blackinton to be beta sites: Brookline, MA Police Department, South Carolina Highway Patrol, and Louisiana Capitol Police. After several years of testing the badges, South Carolina is in the process of purchasing the system. Although impressed with the badges, Brookline opted not to proceed with them, as it is a smaller agency. Scheduled for deployment in the near future is the Fairfax County, VA Police Department.

Chief Ed Middleton of the Louisiana Capitol Police said, “The badges / access devices are very convenient for the field officers due to the fact that the badges can be programmed to allow access to all state-owned facilities throughout the state. This prevents the officers from having to carry two ID/access cards, i.e. police commission card and state ID/access card.”

When asked what size and type of police agency is likely to benefit the most from using SmartShield, Blackinton’s Josh Medeiros brings up an interesting point. While larger agencies are most likely in greater need of badge tracking, the actual procurement can get bogged down in bureaucratic mire. He feels that medium-sized agencies are best suited to this type of technology, as well as smaller agencies that seek interoperability within a large department.
The Future of SmartShield

As agencies look for more utility and added value, Blackinton will continue exploring the potential of RFID-enabled badge technology with an emphasis on mobile applications and return on investment. With both the private and public sector cutting back during these tough economic times, Blackinton has set realistic goals for the future development of this technology.

It has only been three years since the SmartShield badge made its debut, and many facets are still in the testing phase. The manufacture of traditional police badges and insignia will continue to be the backbone of the company’s business. However, as RFID technology continues to evolve, Blackinton plans to be at the forefront by offering a product that will ultimately provide safer cities and towns.

Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Florida. She can be reached at sgeofl@embarqmail.com.

Published in Law and Order, May 2009

Rating : 9.0


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