High-accuracy wireless location technology assists departments.
Polaris Wireless Location Solutions
By: Bhavin Shah
In recent years local, state, and regional law enforcement agencies have greatly increased their use of all types of technology to fight crime. One of the leading types of technology in use by these agencies is high-accuracy wireless location, which provides the precise location of a suspect by tracking his mobile device.
In a world where criminals grow ever more brazen in their use of technology to thwart law enforcement, it only makes sense for the police departments to fight back using cutting-edge technology to more effectively deploy officers where they are needed, ensure their safety, and gain efficiencies. Using high-accuracy location to help locate and track criminals offers several advantages.
First, location tracking provides a solution to monitor suspects and better allocate resources to meet the needs of the community, for example, during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Second, officer safety. High-accuracy wireless location enables authorities to locate and track suspects, preventing ambushes and ensuring an adequate response force. Location tracking ensures dispatchers have the visibility that is needed to protect officers. Third, better intelligence. Criminal tracking provides data to build a prosecution’s case. Police departments can prove where suspects were at the time of an incident, helping re-create crime scenarios and convincing jurors that their version of a case is the correct one.
Location Technologies Differ
Many police departments have relied on GPS devices to track criminals, but this only works if a) the suspect is in possession of a GPS-enabled phone; b) that he has not disabled the GPS chip inside the phone; and c) that he is not indoors where it is near-impossible for GPS satellites to obtain a location fix. If any of those conditions are not met, then the requested location information is not useful.
Likewise, criminal tracking using GPS is less than reliable. A standards-based alternative location method is Radio Frequency Pattern Matching (RFPM). This network-based positioning method uses a mobile device’s own radio signals to identify its owner’s location, eliminating any dependency on satellites or other network hardware. RFPM is able to locate suspects across any air interface and in any environment, eliminating limitations related to the device type or network technology. RFPM works extremely well in non line-of-sight conditions such as dense urban and indoor environments and cannot be disabled by the criminal, unlike GPS, making it highly reliable for mission-critical law enforcement needs.
In order to comply with federal and state laws, law enforcement agencies must typically present a search warrant, a court order, or a formal subpoena to a wireless network operator, such as Verizon or AT&T, in order to gain access to a suspect’s location. According to a recent Congressional inquiry led by Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey, U.S. law enforcement agencies issued 1.3 million requests for wireless subscriber information in 2011.
These requests for subscriber call records and subscriber location, specifically aided by GPS, have come into question by privacy advocates and the courts, but a final ruling on constitutionality has not been made. There are, however, more mundane concerns that impact the usefulness of what could be a game-changing tool in anti-crime efforts.
The process by which a law enforcement agency obtains subscriber location information is considered cumbersome and antiquated by both law enforcement and the wireless industry. After obtaining the warrant and issuing a request to the wireless operator, the law enforcement agency often must navigate multiple offices and contacts within the operator organization to get the requested information.
At stake is money (cash-strapped law enforcement agencies would like to scale back the number of man hours devoted to manually processing requests to and responses from wireless operators) and time (an “immediate” response to a law enforcement request may still take up to eight hours, for which wireless operators often charge a premium, which federal law explicitly allows). Even after going through that process, subscriber location information may not be accurate. Most operators rely on GPS to identify suspect location, but GPS-capable phones are not universal, in addition to the other limitations of GPS described above. For mission-critical law enforcement needs, a more reliable solution is required.
The Ideal Solution
So what would an ideal solution look like? Law enforcement agencies agree on the need for a solution that tracks non-GPS enabled location information from the operator network, and enables a robust surveillance application at the law enforcement agency site, eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming information requests to operators. Fortunately, both conditions are being met by new technology developed in the U.S. and in place today, such as RFPM.
With RFPM in place, law enforcement’s first condition is met. For the second, a locally deployed surveillance system that eliminates the troublesome requests to wireless operators, one must look overseas as an example. Several countries have deployed customized surveillance applications that connect directly to the wireless operator’s network while presenting an easy-to-use interface that is directly accessible by law enforcement.
With this tool, law enforcement can locate and track suspects in real time, as well as locate all wireless devices in a specific location at a specific time (wireless operators currently charge $50-75 per hour per cellular tower for these so-called “tower dumps,” vital to law enforcement in a public emergency such as a bombing or natural disaster).
Of course, cooperation by the wireless operator would still be required, and the solution would need to be adapted to meet warrant guidelines and to satisfy privacy advocates. Once in place, this RFPM-enabled surveillance system would make the job of law enforcement substantially more efficient, saving time, money and lives.
The above examples demonstrate the breadth of capabilities that high-accuracy wireless location technology provides to police departments. Location technology enables a more efficient and inexpensive approach to law enforcement, a vital attribute in the current economic climate, and yet again proving itself to be an essential tool.
Bhavin Shah is the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development with Polaris Wireless.