Homeland security challenges for the Washington D.C. police, II

Published 8 February 2010

Cathy Lanier, the chief of the Washington, D.C. police, says the one thought that keeps her awake at night is the threat that has not occurred to anyone — the failure of imagination as to what may come next; “What is it that we haven’t thought of that could happen?…That still scares me because I know it is there”

Currently, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is working on key technology upgrades for a fusion center. Cathy L. Lanier, the chief of police, allows that, over the past two years, technology has been at the core of access to information and systems. The MPD views having good relationships with other government centers, such as those of the FBI and DHS, as key to plugging into information pipelines through technology. This has made the exchange of information less reliant on technology.

The next step is to replace some remaining human activity with technology-based capabilities. For example, technology could enable easier and more reliable analytical capabilities, improving precision and efficiency in analysis of information. Chief Lanier places analytic software high on her technology wish list, but she emphasizes that it must be accurate and fast to serve MPD homeland security needs. “If it takes a long period of time to do a good quality analysis, it can hurt us,” she states.

Signal Magazine’s Robert K. Ackerman writes that in spite of technology advances, cultural hurdles to effective information sharing remain between the MPD and its federal partners. Lanier emphasizes, however, that these cultural hurdles are more idiosyncratic than institutional. About 90 percent of the cultural issues that emerge are tied to individuals, she declares. Organizations may have engineered the necessary cultural shift, but some individuals remain resistant to change — and that includes within the MPD. Law enforcement is a tradition-driven culture that values experience highly, so dramatic change is difficult, she adds.

Historically, police departments are among the worst for sharing information within their own organizations, the chief continues. Homeland-security-driven requirements have helped break down those interior barriers to information sharing. This in turn has helped the MPD solve crimes and reduce the homicide rate — down 22.5 percent this year, she says. Breaking down those internal cultural barriers also has served as an example for improving inter-organizational information sharing.

Ackerman writes that now that the MPD has its homeland security/counterterrorism framework in place and in operation, Lanier is counting on outside expertise to help the department in its efforts. These non-law-enforcement organizations — such as the military and the private sector — have more experience in areas unfamiliar to law enforcement personnel. The private sector is a font of experience in technology, and new capabilities may emerge to benefit the MPD. The department is continuing to develop relationships with private sector