U.S. app to help emergency responders communicate in crisis

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A mobile app from a law enforcement technology firm could soon allow emergency responders from different agencies to communicate seamlessly with each other in a crisis for the first time, sharing files and conducting impromptu conference calls.

BlueLine Grid’s applications target what has long been one of the most vexing challenges facing U.S. law enforcement and emergency responders. Communications breakdowns hampered responses to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack in New York and disasters including 2012′s Superstorm Sandy.

“It tells you who is near you, who can help you and allows you to communicate effectively with them,” said David Riker, chief executive officer of privately held BlueLine Grid.

Because the app relies on wireless connectivity it could fail during a disaster, so it is intended to supplement and not replace traditional emergency communications, Riker said.

The app works on devices running on Google Inc’s Android and Apple Inc’s iOS operating system.

BlueLine Grid is a law enforcement technology firm co-founded by New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in 2013, who since cut ties to the company to avoid conflicts of interest before returning to the NYPD in January.

The app would be the first to connect individual responders working in the field, using common standards shared in Android and iOS to enable communications between police, fire and other agencies in different jurisdictions, Riker said.

BlueLine Grid uses similar technology to Skype which is known as over-the-top (OTT) voice and messaging, meaning the services run on top of the wireless network, to solve the problem of interoperability.

Experts say that developing better communications systems is one of the key challenges in ongoing efforts to improve security preparedness.

“We have so much law enforcement in the U.S. – more than 700,000 agencies – and each of them has their own method of collecting and sharing information,” said Jim Bueermann, president of the non-profit Police Foundation.

“Finding a platform that is web-based works on mobile platforms and is easy to use is, I think, the holy grail of information sharing,” said Bueermann, a former chief of the Redlands, California police department, which is testing an inter-agency data sharing social media app called CopBook.

Earlier this month, John D. Cohen, the former head of intelligence for the Department of Homeland Security, joined BlueLine Grid’s corporate board.

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New groundbreaking fingerprint test

Scientists in Newcastle could have made one of the largest leaps forward in crime scene investigation in decades.

Experts at Arro SupraNano, which is based in the Herschel Annex of Newcastle University, has created a new test that can give detailed information about a person just from one fingerprint, in minutes.

And such is the global interest in the new technique, which could save police huge amounts of time and money, that the firm is already winning awards for its work.

“A murder case could cost between £1m and £3m, with most of that in time and legwork,” said Arro’s managing director Eamonn Cooney, who describes existing fingerprinting techniques as a “pretty hitty-missy process.”

“But with this test you can say male or female, whether they are on medication, what their lifestyle is, are they taking or distributing drugs, or if they are a terrorists. And we can tell you that within minutes of a sample reaching the lab.

“If you took 100 suspects and had each of them take the test then you could narrow it down to two or three very quickly.

“Police say it has definite applications for serious crimes – murders, sexual assaults or arson.

“And we’ve even had defence attorneys in America come and ask whether they could use it to prove their clients are innocent.”

The technology behind the new powder – which its makers claim can alone improve the clarity of fingerprints by 40% – and test was first developed by Professor Frederick Rowell at Sunderland University in 2005, with Arro SupraNano founded in 2007.

After seven years of development by the firm, which employs six people, the powder launched in January and is now being sold around the world, with the patented analytic test set to go to market in the coming months.

The company recently received the Forensics and Expert Witness E Magazine’s annual product development award.

“Fingerprinting has not changed much in many years,” said Mr Cooney. “You go to a crime scene, brush with powder, lift the print with tape, take a photo and record it on a national database. But we’ve done two new things with nano particles.

“Our powder adheres much more closely to the ridges and troughs of a fingerprint, as the particles are chemically very sticky, which is really important as for comparison you’re looking for 12 to 20 points, and prints are often smudged, but you can now see the details much more clearly and there is less background staining.

“Then we decided to take it a step further because we found there is a lot of information of the fingertip itself.

“We can test for drugs, explosives or gun residue, or other substances that police might be interested in.

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FINGERPRINTS can reveal what you ate for lunch

Crime scene investigators can tell what a criminal ate and drank before they committed a crime, thanks to pioneering fingerprint technology.

The equipment can detect certain food and drink, such as garlic and coffee, as well as work out if a criminal has taken drugs.

Scientists have already used the tool to determine the sex of a criminal and are now working on it being able to test for medical conditions.

They could also use it to tell the police how long a fingerprint has been at the crime scene.

The microscopic technology is called Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionisation Mass Spectrometry Imaging (MALDI-MSI) and it traces drugs, hair and cleaning products in fingerprints.

It has been developed by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University’s Biomedical Research Centre (BMRC).

The researchers are working with West Yorkshire Police, who are trialling the technology on fingerprints left at scenes of crime.

Dr Simona Francese, who led the research, said: ‘MALDI enables you to detect the chemistry of the finger marks so essentially what chemicals are present on finger marks.

‘What we can do with the technology is detect multiple species in one analysis.’

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Police getting real-time access to private security cameras

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Downtown businesses are giving area law enforcement agencies greater access to private video surveillance feeds under a new push to increase real-time monitoring capabilities in Grand Rapids.

Jack Stewart, Kent County emergency management coordinator, said the Grand Rapids Police and Kent County Sheriff’s departments are increasing access to the downtown surveillance apparatus under a new public-private partnership program.

The two agencies are tapping into private video feeds from existing cameras mounted on the exterior of private commercial buildings downtown, he said.

Previously, police would request video from private feeds during the course of a criminal investigation. Now, police will be able to monitor the feeds in real time from county and city dispatch centers.

“This is the same technology that helped catch the Boston Marathon bombers,” said Stewart. “This is not day-to-day monitoring. It’s just in the event of an emergency. There would have to be an event serious enough to trigger us to monitor the cameras.”

The program, which Stewart said is pursuing federal Dept. of Homeland Security grants to expand the surveillance capability downtown with new and upgraded equipment, has been in the works for several years.

“Some of the cameras are hooked-up already, but we’d like to offer to enhance and expand to other businesses and facilities that want to hook-up to the project,” said Stewart about uses for the possible grant money.

The program is a response to increasing activity in the downtown area, and disclosure of the project follows a pair of downtown shootings this month that have caused Grand Rapids police to step up their presence in the district.

Shots fired outside McFadden’s Saloon on June 15, and the shooting of a two teenagers downtown on June 18 after the Bruno Mars concert are “good examples” of when the technology would be used, said Stewart.

Large events like ArtPrize or the Fifth Third River Bank Run are also examples of when real time monitoring would be useful, he said.

Stewart said there are roughly 100 exterior video cameras right now that are or could be accessed under the program, many of them concentrated around government and critical infrastructure buildings.

Non-disclosure agreements precluded Stewart from naming specific businesses participating in the program, but some were willing to disclose that on their own.

Cameras mounted on Amway Hotel Corporation properties downtown are part of the program, according to Amway Corp. representatives.

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Court ruling may affect cell tracking by Chicago police

A secret cellular tracking system used by the Chicago Police Department could run afoul of a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting authorities from searching cellphones without a warrant, experts said Wednesday.

The department has for several years been using cell site simulators — commonly known as IMSI catchers or Stingray devices — to scan cellphones for call logs, which include text messages. They also track phones’ locations, which the court didn’t address in this case. Though sources confirm the simulators’ use, the city has never publicly acknowledged having the equipment.

After Chicago police ignored a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information about the equipment’s cost, local activist Freddy Martinez sued the department this month to force the release of documents related to the simulators’ purchase. State law dictates that all expenditures of public funds are subject to open record laws.

“The fact they won’t disclose whether they even have the Stingrays suggests that they could be using it improperly,” said Matthew Topic, a transparency lawyer who is representing Martinez in his lawsuit.

A Chicago police spokesman declined to discuss how the Supreme Court ruling would affect department procedures or its use of simulators.

“Obviously, the ruling just came down (Wednesday) and our lawyers and department personnel are still evaluating how it might impact police operations,” spokesman Martin Maloney said.

In addition to federal agencies, police departments in at least 15 states have cell site simulators, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has been involved in several lawsuits aimed at releasing public documents connected to Stingray use.

Topic said he expects the Supreme Court ruling will prompt the city to rethink how it uses the simulators, especially because the systems have the ability to mine data from people who are near suspects but not the target of any law enforcement investigation.

“I would like to believe the Chicago Police Department doesn’t want to engage in wholesale Fourth Amendment violations,” he said. “I hope they would read the ruling and take a hard look at their procedures.”

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2 dozen gang members arrested in drug investigation

Federal and local law enforcement raided stash houses and made arrests early Thursday as authorities cracked down on a gang-controlled heroin and crack cocaine operation just off the Eisenhower Expressway, dubbed the “Heroin Highway” by law enforcement for its easy access to Chicago’s West Side.

At a news conference at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said the charges against 27 individuals mirror a trend of Chicago’s street gangs aligning into localized drug-dealing factions.

Authorities said the investigation uncovered that Kenny Shoulders, a leader of the Conservative Vice Lords street gang, controlled the heroin and crack dealing in a 12-block area immediately north of Douglas Park in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

A gang informant told investigators that Conservative Vice Lord members mostly ran the drug-dealing in those blocks but with the assistance of members from the Traveling Vice Lords, Black Souls Nation, Gangster Disciples and New Breed street gangs.

While the charges don’t allege any acts of violence by the gangbangers, Fardon said, “We believe bringing serious charges such as these is an effective tool in reducing violence in our communities.”

Fardon said the arrests mark one of the most significant cases brought so far by a multijurisdictional task force of federal and local law enforcement that has been in existence for about two years. He said the strike force has the ability to develop nimble and quick-moving investigations that can disrupt the drug trade. This investigation took about a year.

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TSA recovers record setting number if guns in one day

CHESTERFIELD, Va. June 7 2014 — The Transportation Security Administration reports seeing an increase in guns at airport checkpoints.

The day after the agency reported stopping a record 18 guns at checkpoints nationwide on Thursday, two Virginia men were arrested for carrying guns.

Thursday’s reports became the most ever amount of guns detected at checkpoints in one day.

Friday morning TSA officers at two separated airports detected guns in the carry-on bags of the passengers.

Preliminary indications are that the incidents are not related.

Weapons—including firearms, firearm parts and ammunition—are not permitted in carry-on bags, but can be transported in checked bags if they are unloaded, properly packed and declared to the airline. Passengers who bring firearms to the checkpoint are subject to possible criminal charges from law enforcement and civil penalties from TSA. Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality and travelers should familiarize themselves with state and local firearm laws for each point of travel prior to departure.

Passengers are responsible for the contents of bags they bring to the security checkpoint, and TSA’s advice to passengers is to look through bags thoroughly before coming to the airport to make sure there are no illegal or prohibited items.

TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its web site here:
http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/firearms-and-ammunition

Airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition. Travelers should also contact their airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies.

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Reputed Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Gang Leader Pleads Guilty

An alleged general of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas gang (ABT) pleaded guilty today to racketeering charges related to his membership in the ABT’s criminal enterprise, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas.

Terry Ross Blake, aka “Big Terry,” 56, of Corpus Christi, Texas, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake in the Southern District of Texas to one count of conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity.

According to court documents, Blake and other ABT gang members and associates agreed to commit multiple acts of murder, robbery, arson, kidnapping and narcotics trafficking on behalf of the ABT gang. Blake and numerous ABT gang members met on a regular basis at various locations throughout Texas to report on gang-related business, collect dues, commit disciplinary assaults against fellow gang members and discuss acts of violence against rival gang members, among other things.

By pleading guilty to racketeering charges, Blake admitted to being a member of the ABT criminal enterprise.

According to the superseding indictment, the ABT was established in the early 1980s within the Texas prison system. The gang modeled itself after and adopted many of the precepts and writings of the Aryan Brotherhood, a California-based prison gang that was formed in the California prison system during the 1960s. According to the superseding indictment, previously, the ABT was primarily concerned with the protection of white inmates and white supremacy/separatism. Over time, the ABT expanded its criminal enterprise to include illegal activities for profit.

Court documents allege that the ABT enforced its rules and promoted discipline among its members, prospects and associates through murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, arson, assault, robbery and threats against those who violate the rules or pose a threat to the enterprise. Members, and oftentimes associates, were required to follow the orders of higher-ranking members, often referred to as “direct orders.”

According to the superseding indictment, in order to be considered for ABT membership, a person must be sponsored by another gang member. Once sponsored, a prospective member must serve an unspecified term, during which he is referred to as a prospect, while his conduct is observed by the members of the ABT.

At sentencing, scheduled for Oct. 8, 2014, Blake faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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Cop Describes First Time He Went Undercover

Working undercover on his first case as a fake hit man, an officer said he was more nervous about messing up the case than he was about the danger posed by his secret identity.

“I don’t want to say the wrong things, just you know, mess up the case or anything like that,” Jose, whose name has been changed because he still works undercover, told ABC News’ “20/20.”

Jose is part of an elite squad of undercover agents working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms all across this country. Earlier this year, a group of undercover federal agents agreed to sit down with “20/20″ to recount the stories of intervening in murder-for-hire plots.

The setting for Jose’s first undercover case was a supermarket parking lot in 2011. There, in the midst of grocery shoppers, he met with soccer mom Nicole Faccenda, 42, of Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

“I guess she wanted to make it seem like she was shopping, if anyone questioned her, what she was doing here at the time,” said Jose.

Faccenda wanted the new girlfriend of her longtime boyfriend, Howie, killed, authorities said. She hired Jose, whom she met through Howie’s relative, to get the job done.

“Just based on looking at her, you didn’t really think that she was capable of doing it,” Jose said. While Faccenda plotted the murder of her romantic rival, she wanted Howie to live — but not because she was carrying a torch for him.

“She wants him to live because she wants him to grieve,” Jose said. “She wants to see him suffer.”

Jose said he worked out the details of the plot with Faccenda. He asked her how she wanted the murder carried out and how much she was willing to pay.

They agreed on the price of $10,000. Faccenda later paid a down payment of $2,000 for the hit, authorities said.

Faccenda was arrested after the week-long ATF operation. She later pleaded guilty and, in December 2013, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“I thank God every day that no one got hurt from my careless actions,” Faccenda told “20/20″ in an email from prison. “I would like to apologize to the victim and her family. I am not — and have never been — a violent person. I was a woman destroyed by emotions and I am paying for it dearly.”

Jose recalled thinking, “What’s wrong with you?”

“When someone’s being so evil next to you, it’s like, ‘How can you even conceive of something like this?’” Jose said.

“And you have to sit there with your poker face, and, ‘Okay, if this is what you want done, this is what I’m going to do.’”

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Facial recognition – coming soon

Technology giant NEC’s Hong Kong branch is promoting a small, “easy to install” appliance which will enable businesses to monitor their customers based on facial recognition.

From a recent NEC press release:

The new Mobile Facial Recognition Appliance enables organizations in any industry to offer an ultra-personalized customer experience by recognizing the face of each and every customer as soon as they set foot on the premises.

Face recognition is becoming ever more sophisticated and accurate, bringing automated detection and tracking of people by the way they look within reach of all sorts of people.

For law enforcement this technology is, of course, a dream. Despite limited success in the real world, any modern conspiracy thriller worth its salt includes a scene where creepily intrusive/heroically hardworking forces of law and order are shown to be able to find anyone passing near any security camera, and follow them around with minimal effort.

With the FBI’s latest plans to expand facial recognition data this sort of thing comes another step closer to reality.

It’s not just the feds and the snoops that love the idea though. In the business world, who people are and what they’re up to has become the basis of a massive industry, with big data on anyone and everyone being used to hone and target advertising and promotions in an effort to suck in a few more customers.

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