A couple of weeks ago one attendee was a detective with the NYPD, and he offered to take me behind the scenes at One Police Plaza so that I could take a look at a few of the units that use information technology (IT) for a lot more than just paperwork and filing.
I had read about Detective Travis Rapp and his involvement with the Real Time Crime Center, which was our first stop. Respectful to the television portrayals of this and similar units, it really is something to see. From here police from anywhere in the city can call in and get information and support tracking suspects. Imagine a thirty foot monitor controlled by a pit of computers manned by detectives who are expert in tracking suspects, licenses, cell-phones, weapons… and more importantly how these all fit together – where a suspect’s car and cell-phone are the suspect is surely not far, and if he (or she) has a history of weapons and/or violence may be the difference between officers being injured or coming away from an arrest safe. I couldn’t help but think that if I was a ‘perp’ I wouldn’t want these systems (and the people who make it work!) on my trail…
Next we stopped in Computer Crimes, and I got to meet some of the skilled detectives who handle computers confiscated during arrests or seizure. For obvious reasons I won’t disclose any of the tools of the trade that they use (many of which are discussed in some of my classes but some are not!) but as a veteran of the forensic side of IT I am suitably impressed by the professionalism of the team. It is easy to imagine a room filled with geeks with thick glasses and pocket protectors. The first thing I noticed when entering the back room was that they were first and foremost cops… badges, side-arms, and all. Later I asked Detective Rapp as we discussed some of the stars of the team (of which he is a veteran) if the NYPD trained most of them from scratch, or did they look for officers with a background in IT. I couldn’t imagine having a high success rate trying to train beat-cops to do what these people do. At the same time I want to reiterate that these are all professionals, and there are no ‘former criminal hackers’ in the group. Sorry Kevin, you’ll have to look elsewhere for your next job J
The last stop we made (I’m skipping a few floors) was the garage where we took cruiser Unit 1956 out for a spin – not a ‘ride-along’ that some people would crave, but a spin of the Panasonic Toughbook laptop that each cruiser has, and the software and communications tools they use to give every mobile unit another advantage on the job, whether chasing down suspects or issuing traffic citations.
The new DataMaxx software package that each unit has revolutionized the mobile unit, and seeing it in action was interesting; however the part that most appealed to me was that Detective Rapp would be making a video, user manual, and PowerPoint deck to train officers in the tool.
I should mention that Mo, who is responsible for deploying these ToughBooks, has done a brilliant job of locking them down. He uses Microsoft Deployment Toolkit to create, manage, and deploy the images, customizing them and locking them down – both in the CMOS (blocking USB and such) and in the image itself. He knows that a locked-down user environment not only prevents users from installing software – by definition in a secure, well-managed infrastructure unsanctioned – but also prevents tampering; both of these result in a more stable environment over the long term.
In order to create the training materials that were required we used one of my favorite must-have tools – TechSmith’s SnagIt. Even though you can screen-shot individual app windows with Windows 7, the SnagIt tool adds incredible functionality – editing, resizing, adding effects, and much more – before sending the image directly to either Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or an e-mail (either as an attachment or an embedded image).
For the document Detective Rapp was creating he needed the screen shots sent to Word, but would eventually be creating the PowerPoint deck as well. SnagIt maintains the screenshots in memory so that you can reuse them over and over – after exporting them to Word we could then export several captures shots to different slides or, even better, to a build-slide with animation. The images will be properly sized and positioned automatically, all thanks to SnagIt and without having to resize and adjust any of the images in PowerPoint (which is not difficult, only more work).
The next step of building the training material will likely be to record training videos of the system, for which Detective Rapp will likely rely on another TechSmith tool, Camtasia Studio. Unfortunately that will happen after I have left, but I know that he will have no problems with it because I have used the tool before and you have heard me rave about how easy and powerful it is.
As I walked back to my hotel from 1PP I couldn’t help but think that when they talk about ‘New York’s Finest’ they are not only talking about the bravest… they have some of the finest IT forensics and cyber-crimes people, some fine Windows Deployment guys, and use some fine tools all around. For security reasons I only mention two of them in this piece (Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and TechSmith SnagIt). I felt safer knowing that if they had taken the time to make sure they used the right tools for their IT, they were probably using the right tools for feet-on-the-ground law enforcement as well.
Stay safe out there guys… New York’s Finest indeed!