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January 11, 2011
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PD social networking without the headaches of Facebook

The mission of Interactive Defense System is to make communities safer by bridging the gap between departments and civilians

The benefits of social media in law enforcement are undeniable, but those benefits are often hindered by the technology’s inherent lack of security, privacy or reliable moderation.

Take Facebook for example: As useful as it is in reaching out to the community, it does not maximize the Web’s potential on a law enforcement level.

That’s because Facebook, quite honestly, has bigger fish to fry. Although it works for cops, it wasn’t specifically designed for them.

That’s where Interactive Defense System comes in.

IDS is a social network designed specifically for law enforcement, meaning it’s equipped with crime-solving tools as well as privacy and security measures you won’t find on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or YouTube. Its sole purpose is to make communities safer by bridging the gap between departments and civilians.

How it began
The web-based application is the product of a conversation between software company F3 Technologies and Georgia-based police group the Noble Heroes Corp.

They launched their pilot system with the Dunwoody (Georgia) Police Department in Oct. 2010 and have directly used it to catch at least two criminals in the three months since. The city of Clarkson (Georgia) has since signed on with IDS and will soon become the second department to launch the system. Both departments are in DeKalb County, a suburb of Atlanta, where F3 is based. With that said, the system is not geographically bound.

“From an operational perspective, there’s no reason we have to be in Georgia,” said F3 COO Paul Campbell. “We’re currently in the Atlanta area because the chiefs feel comfortable adopting the product.”

Once the system is installed at the specific police department, it is run entirely by the PD from that point forward.

“We find out what they want and we tailor it from there,” says Campbell.

How it works
There are two main sections within the system: One for the cops and the other for the citizens.

The police side, which is called HEROSPACE, features an admin interface that allows cops to communicate and broadcast information to the community, as well as to other officers within the department.

• Virtual roll call – This gives officers access to important roll-call information at all times, rather than only at the start of a shift.
• Virtual Wanted poster – Detectives can send images and important information to the entire community, or they can narrow it down and target specific segments.
• Inter-department contact – If gang activity is migrating from one location to another, departments can relay information in real time to ensure preparation on the part of officers. The same goes for patterns of bad checks or any other measurable crime trend in a community.
• Hosted online – Departments can easily upload and store operational procedures, training videos and useful photos online, easily accessible to all officers on a daily basis.
• Searchable community database – Can access names, addresses, and emergency contact information using only a phone number – extra convenient when the only information available is a hang-up call to dispatch.

Members of the community see a different interface than the officers do. On the civilian side, people can:

• Report crimes and submit tips to police
• Register valuables before they’ve been stolen so that pawnshops and police know what to look for the moment something goes missing.
• Communicate with officers as you would a friend on a social network.
• Alert cops before leaving on vacation so that they can patrol your home for suspicious activity.

The final bullet point is something a PD could never accomplish on Facebook, where the inability to validate information and the sheer size of the network make it difficult to place stock in a user comment or message. The connection between citizen and cop is much tighter on IDS, where residents have the option to provide home security codes and other private information that might aide cops in an investigation.

In no way is IDS trying to compete against non-public-safety networks. In fact, they embrace them as supplemental tools.

“We’ll probably integrate Facebook and Twitter just to enhance,” says Campbell, emphasizing the system’s public-safety mission. “This is a very controlled environment.”

Less secure networking sites, on the other hand, are places were many kinds of problems can flourish.

"If you don’t pay attention to what’s on the internet, you can get into trouble," said Ed Appel at the SMILE Conference in Santa Monica.

What IDS isn’t
A social network in which you’ll want to gossip about past girlfriends or stay in touch with your buddies from high school.

What IDS is
A direct line of communication between the people who protect a city and the people who live in it. It fosters an environment in which a trusting relationship can flourish in a way that is safe and convenient.

It virtually bridges the gap between cops and citizens.

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