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Research Question

  1. How can law enforcement best leverage future communications capabilities anticipated to be fielded over the next 10 to 15 years while mitigating potential risks?

Forthcoming broadband communications technologies could provide dramatically increased capabilities for law enforcement. In September 2015, the RAND Corporation convened an expert panel for the National Institute of Justice to discuss how law enforcement can best leverage future communications capabilities anticipated to be fielded over the next 10 to 15 years while mitigating potential risks. The Broadband Communications Workshop assembled 41 experts on both law enforcement operations and broadband technologies, and collectively identified 68 needs for technology initiatives, including both technical and non-materiel requirements.

The top theme of workshop dealt with supporting the emergence of a future broadband network in which law enforcement users will be able to seamlessly and securely communicate over whatever local point of access is the best fit at any specific location, time, and situation. The second major theme dealt with being able to filter, prioritize, and make sense out of all the new data sent over this network. A common concern was the danger of information overload and how to manage and curate information to make it most useful for various areas of law enforcement, ranging from officers in the field to operations centers and public safety answering points. Specific needs in support of themes included architectural development, developing guidance for agencies on acquiring, managing, and using new technologies, and conducting research and development on a range of technologies related to bringing about the future hybrid networks and information prioritization.

Key Findings

Enabling the Future Hybrid Broadband Network

  • The top result from the 2015 Broadband Communications Workshop is a general need to support the emergence of a future broadband network in which law enforcement users will be able to communicate seamlessly and securely over whatever Internet point of access is the best fit at any specific location, time, and situation.
  • The top-rated need in this area was guidance for agencies on how to acquire, manage, and use the forthcoming technologies.
  • Participants also emphasized the importance of providing high-quality service in rural and sparsely populated areas.

Making Sense of Information in the New Network

  • The second major need identified by the workshop is for capabilities to filter, prioritize, and make sense out of all the new data that the future broadband networks will transmit. A common concern was the danger of information overload and the need to better manage and curate information to make it most useful for law enforcement.
  • One top-rated need in this area was to develop smart software agents that can prioritize what officers in the field need to see in different operational contexts.

The research reported here was conducted in the Justice Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

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