The National Institute of Justice, which for 34 years has helped
federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies acquire new weapons
to fight crime, is turning increasing attention to the war on terror,
said David G. Boyd, director of the institute’s Office of
Science and Technology.
The NIJ—the research arm of the Justice Department—is
stepping up its efforts to assist police, first responders and the
military services in developing innovative ways to counter the increased
terrorist threat, Boyd explained during an interview.
Since the institute was created in 1968, he noted, it has helped
develop many devices and techniques that have proven useful both
in traditional law-enforcement and the fight against terrorism.
Included are such innovations as soft body armor, night-vision equipment,
DNA technology and less-than-lethal weapons, which now are used
widely throughout law enforcement and the military services.
To develop such gadgets, the NIJ works closely with federal, state
and local police agencies, fire departments and other emergency
services. During the 1990s, the institute began ramping up its cooperation
with Defense Department organizations, such as the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency and the individual military services, as
well as the national laboratories, the Energy Department and the
Much of its traditional anticrime work is useful against terrorists,
Boyd said. “We believe that all law-enforcement research is
relevant to counter-terrorism,” he noted. “At its most
basic level, terrorism is a criminal act.”
As the focus on antiterrorism increased, so has the NIJ budget,
from $25 million in 1994 to nearly $300 million requested for 2003.
Of the 2003 request, approximately 85 percent is earmarked for research
and development, Boyd said.
NIJ’s research efforts run the gamut, seeking new tools to
prevent terrorist incidents, to investigate those incidents that
do occur and to limit casualties among investigators, first responders,
military personnel and—most importantly—civilian populations,
“For us, the mission is all of those civilians,” he
explained. The military services are trying to limit collateral
damage during combat operations, he said, but within the United
States, “no collateral damage is acceptable.”
The best option, Boyd said, is to prevent an event in the first
place. To catch terrorists before they can do harm, for example,
the institute has funded development of a walk-through weapons-detection
portal by the Energy Department’s Idaho Environmental and
The portal detects ferro-magnetic materials commonly found in weapons,
but not the metals used in jewelry, keys and coins. Thus, it can
speed up the process of scanning people at airports, schools, courthouses
and other sensitive sites. It has been commercialized by Quantum
Magnetics, of San Diego, and Milestone Technologies, of Raleigh,
Detecting Concealed Weapons
The NIJ also sponsored a portable system that can detect concealed
weapons at a distance in a crowd. This device—built by Trex
Enterprises, another San Diego-based firm—uses a passive millimeter
wave imager to pick up the differences in heat energy between a
person’s body and what that person is carrying. The objects
appear as distinct images on real-time video.
To help bomb technicians keep their skills honed, the NIJ worked
with the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head, Md.,
to prepare an interactive CD-ROM to serve as a refresher course
for the basic instruction taught at the FBI’s Hazardous Devices
The institute and the Indian Head facility also are testing a small,
portable device that could disable a large fuel-fertilizer bomb,
such as the one that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma
The Raytheon Company, of Arlington, Va., has teamed up with the
institute to produce a portable radar system that can penetrate
concrete and brick to locate and track multiple individuals through
walls. The system could be useful in hostage rescues and other urban-combat
scenarios, Boyd said.
For this reason, he said, the NIJ is collaborating with the Army,
Marine Corps, Air Force Research Laboratory, Federal Emergency Management
Agency and the Technical Support Working Group—a joint effort
by the Defense, State, Justice and Energy Departments—to complete
the radar’s development. A prototype is scheduled to be evaluated
before year’s end.
The NIJ’s AGILE (Advanced Generation Interoperability for
Law Enforcement) program is evaluating an ACU-1000 communications
switch at the police department in Alexandria, Va. The switch provides
communications interoperability during critical incidents by linking
voice communications among disparate radio systems, thereby enabling
different agencies and jurisdictions to communicate with each other.
“That could help solve a major problem,” Boyd said.
“Right now, most agencies can’t talk to one another.”
Immediately after the September 11 attack on the Pentagon—which
is located not far from Alexandria—the ACU-1000 switch was
activated for use by the city’s partner agencies, which included
the FBI, Secret Service and local police from all over the metropolitan
area. Throughout the crisis, a number of active channels were monitored
to provide dispatchers with information from other departments.
At New York City’s World Trade Center, the NIJ provided technology
support to rescue and recovery efforts, Boyd said. NIJ representatives
helped identify and meet the technological needs of FEMA’s
urban search and rescue teams and the New York City Fire Department,
Finding Trapped Victims
The NIJ-funded Savannah River Technology Center, located near Aiken,
S.C., contributed a team of electrical and mechanical engineers,
a chemist and a technician. With them, they brought more than $500,000
worth of equipment, including cameras, microphones, crawlers, boroscopes
and other tools to reach into inaccessible and hazardous spaces
under the rubble.
To aid in detecting, documenting and recording trapped victims
and human remains, the NIJ set up a perimeter surveillance system
and trained rescue workers to use it.
The NIJ-funded Center for Civil Force Protection—located
at the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories, near
Albuquerque, N.M.—deployed a system that uses search dogs
outfitted with video cameras, lights and other sensors to investigate
areas too inaccessible or dangerous for humans to enter. The dogs
wore tiny radio receivers to allow their handlers to give them commands
from a distance.
Representatives from Pennsylvania State University’s Applied
Research Laboratory contributed expertise in advanced acoustic technologies
and terrain assessment.
In many respects, terrorist attacks are similar to major natural
disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, Boyd said. “We
prefer to think of all of these events as critical incidents,”
In all of them, Boyd noted, first responders face similar problems—such
as inadequate coordination across jurisdictions and among agencies,
lack of training and equipment deficiencies.
To solve such dilemmas, the institute in 1997 set up a critical-incident
technology program. This program is a collaborative effort between
federal, state and local public-safety agencies, including both
police departments and first responders, Boyd explained. As its
part in the program, the NIJ contributes $10 million a year to help
find ways to fill gaps in existing technology. Current critical-incident
Another NIJ program that has wide applications, Boyd said, is its
effort to develop less-than-lethal weapons. The Justice Department
began encouraging the use of non-lethal weapons—such as water
cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas—in the late 1960s as a
way of putting down riots and other civil disorders with minimum
A 1986 attorney general’s conference recommended an increased
emphasis on non-lethal technologies. In response, the NIJ established
a less-than-lethal program that investigated the use of:
Since 1996, the NIJ has worked with the Defense Department’s
Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, which is headquartered at
the Marine Base, in Quantico, Va., to develop such equipment for
the armed services. The services are turning to non-lethal technologies
for operations such as peacekeeping and force protection, where
use of deadly force must be carefully limited.
The NIJ also helps spread the word about new technologies throughout
the nation’s fragmented law enforcement system, Boyd said.
The United States has more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies,
50 state prison systems and thousands of local jails, he noted.
Traditionally, he said, they have had little access to information
about technological developments in their field.
To help change this, Boyd explained, the NIJ in 1994 created a
National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center to serve
as a clearinghouse of information and source of technology assistance.
The system includes a national center, located in Rockville, Md.,
and regional facilities in El Segundo, Calif.; Denver; Rome, N.Y.,
and Charleston, S.C. In addition, the NLCTC has offices that specialize
in border matters, located in San Diego; law-enforcement standards,
in Gaithersburg, Md.; commercialization of law-enforcement and corrections
technologies, in Wheeling, W.Va., and rural law-enforcement issues,
in Hazard, Ky.
In West Virginia, the institute conducts a mock prison riot every
year to give corrections officers from all over the world a chance
to use and evaluate the latest technologies for dealing with uprisings.
Through its Office of Law Enforcement Standards, the NLCTC has
developed voluntary minimum performance measurements for police
The center contracted with two independent testing laboratories—H.P.
White Laboratory Inc., of Street, Md., and United States Test laboratory
LLC, of Wichita, Kan.—to test automatically loading pistols,
the kind used by the vast majority of law-enforcement agencies.
Eight manufacturers agreed to submit a total of 23 pistol models
for testing. As of October 2001, 19 of those tested were found to
be in compliance with NIJ standards.
The standards office also tests metal handcuffs. Manufacturers
are required to meet minimum standards for such factors as mechanical
strength, corrosion resistance and cheek-plate tamper resistance.
At last report, a total of 18 models, made by six firms, complied
with the standards.
Although much of the NIJ’s research concerns counter-terrorism,
President Bush has opted not to transfer the institute to the proposed
Department of Homeland security, officials said.
The reason, they said, is that the vast amount of the NIJ’s
work is for state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies,
and would not fit well into a federal counter-terror organization.