It is near the end of a 45-second online advertisement that the head of the Citizens Crime Commission walks over to the actor who plays an officer on TV.
“Protect our police officers,” says Richard M. Aborn, standing before a wall of law books and the American flag. “Because if they’re safe, so are we.”
The actor is Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays the earnest detective Robert Goren on television’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” And with him, Mr. Aborn is lending law enforcement credibility to a proposed ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines that has gained attention in Congress since 6 people were killed and 13 injured, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, in the Tucson shootings last month.
To the uninitiated, the debate over guns and ammunition is sometimes dominated by those with entrenched views on either side, while the voice of law enforcement is sometimes drowned out. On the streets, however, it is police officers, federal agents and others who enforce the laws who, along with civilians, are often in the most danger when criminals’ firepower reaches high levels.
Indeed, Jared L. Loughner, the man accused of opening fire at the congresswoman’s public event, had an oversize magazine of bullets that allowed him to quickly fire his Glock 19 semiautomatic more than 30 times before being forced to reload.
There once was a law in place to ban such magazines. It is a law that Mr. Aborn, who served as president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence from 1993 to 1996, is credited with championing, along with the Brady Bill and other legislation. But the law had a sunset provision and, in 2004, it died on the legislative vine.
So far, Mr. Aborn’s jumping back into the national debate over gun control, with Mr. D’Onofrio at his side, is having an impact. The spot has been linked to on Twitter and Facebook by Russell Simmons, the mogul, rap impresario and political advocate; and it has been sent out by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.
“The more attention we can get to this very important issue to pass this bill, the better,” said Colin C. Weaver, that group’s deputy director.
Mr. D’Onofrio says in the ad that while the guns on his show are fake, “Our police officers face real threats every day.” He adds: “Police officers shouldn’t have to confront that much firepower on the street; it’s not fair.”
Mr. Kelly Goes to Washington
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, no stranger to official Washington addressed the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday on the topic “Safeguarding our Future: Building a Nationwide Network for First Responders” at the invitation of Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia. Here is the bulk of his speech:
Thanks to the leadership of Senator Rockefeller, Congressman King, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, we are closer than ever to providing our nation’s first responders with a tool they desperately need: a nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety. It was extremely encouraging to see President Obama expressing his firm support for this initiative last week.
I come to Washington today as the head of a police department that will benefit enormously from this technology. I consider it essential to the future of our mission. I know this view is shared by law enforcement agencies and fire departments, large and small, urban and rural across this country.
That’s because our existing communications systems are fast becoming obsolete. Like virtually all other public safety organizations, the New York City Police Department relies principally on the use of two-way voice radios to communicate with responding officers and direct them to a scene. However, this technology is extremely limited. We cannot use it to exchange electronic data. And although we have made progress on local radio interoperability, the lack of a common radio spectrum prevents us from establishing a truly seamless nationwide system for all first responders.
Today, a 16-year-old with a smartphone has a more advanced communications capability than a police officer or deputy carrying a radio. Given the technology that is available, and the complexity of the threat we face, that is unacceptable. It will only change if we succeed in building a nationwide broadband network to a mission-critical grade of service.
In New York City, this would enable the N.Y.P.D. to fully leverage the powerful technology that we use in our Real Time Crime Center. This is a state-of-the art computer facility we opened at our headquarters in 2005. It is supported by a massive database containing billions of public and private records. We’ve made this database searchable with the latest software. Around the clock, crime center detectives take calls from investigators in the field, looking to follow up on various leads they’ve obtained: a partial license plate, a seemingly untraceable cellphone number, a nickname or even a tattoo. They conduct instant, on the spot searches, something that previously took days of calling, faxing between agencies, and combing through paper files.
We’re also about to launch a facial recognition unit within the Real Time Crime Center. It will use digital technology to match video images of people at crime scenes to mug shots on file.
With a dedicated broadband network, we would be able to push this information out to tens of thousands of officers on patrol. For example, an officer using a hand-held device operating on this network could receive detailed information before he or she arrives at a location. This would include who lives there; whether or not the police have been there before and why; and if any of the occupants has an outstanding warrant, an order of protection, or a firearms license.
Such a network could also provide officers with an immediate, digital snapshot of anyone they detain. It would give them the suspect’s address, prior arrest history, and other critical details. The officer would be able to take electronic fingerprints at the scene and compare them instantaneously with those in local, state, and federal databases. This kind of situational awareness is vital to the safety of the officers and members of the public. And it represents the next generation of law enforcement communications.
But we can’t get there without a safe, secure, and effective broadband network over which to deliver this information, one that is built and run to public safety specifications, and one that we can control. We know from past experience that we can’t depend on systems run by the private sector. They are too susceptible to failure in a crisis. On Sept. 11 and after the 2009 crash of a commercial jet in the Hudson River, cellphone networks were deluged and police and fire communications over them became virtually impossible.
That’s a grave concern in light of the threat we face from terrorism. The New York City Police Department trains every day to prepare for large-scale disasters. But we need a network that will support a multi-agency response and all of the technology we use to keep the city safe.
To give you one example, as part of our response to the attempted car bombing in Times Square last May, we deployed a robot to inspect the vehicle. As is the case with all of our robots, it was controlled by its operator through a thin fiber-optic cable. Our need to maneuver around fire hoses and other obstacles on the street increased the risk that the cable would be run over and severed. If that had happened, we would have lost control of the robot.
With an adequate broadband network in place, we wouldn’t have to worry about that. We could control robots wirelessly, thereby removing these risks.
It would also make it easier and safer to conduct complex operations involving more than one robot — say if we found a secondary device at a bomb scene. With wireless broadband technology, we wouldn’t have to be concerned about managing multiple cables. We could also share the video feeds from our robots with the federal government and other law enforcement agencies in real time.
Right now, these capacities do not exist. But they will if we build this network.
Every public safety agency in the nation supports this effort. That is why I urge Congress in the strongest possible terms to allocate the D Block directly to public safety, and to ensure funding for this vital resource. We need adequate bandwidth, network control, and the higher standard of reliability and survivability that only a public safety network can provide. Together with our partners from across the country, the New York City Police Department looks forward to the day when we can share a broadband capability that delivers voice, video, and data on a dedicated wireless network. For the sake of the security of cities and towns throughout our nation, I sincerely hope we see that day soon.
Al Baker, police bureau chief for The New York Times — and the son of a police lieutenant — brings you inside the nation’s largest police force every Thursday. Our Manhattan state courts correspondent, John Eligon, contributed reporting this week. Mr. Baker can be reached at [email protected]