Rows of school lockers

Maryland Center for School Safety Provides Model Threat Assessment Policy

Maryland Center for School Safety Provides Model Threat Assessment Policy

Shortly after the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and the incident at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Md., in March 2018, the Maryland General Assembly passed a wide-ranging school safety package that included requiring all public school systems to implement behavioral threat assessment teams. The state’s public schools weren’t left to figure things out on their own, however, as the Maryland School Safety Subcabinet has created a model policy to provide guidance.

Boy upset sitting in the hallway

“A cross-discipline group of individuals worked together to develop the policy,” says Center Director Kate Hession. “The group pulled information and gathered input from various sources, including the U.S. Secret Service, the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, and the FBI. They used existing research and recognized standards of practice regarding threat assessment and management in school and workplace settings.”

With the implementation of the legislation, Maryland joined neighboring Virginia in requiring schools to have a threat assessment policy. (Threat assessment is a prevention-based strategy that, in theory, means serious threats are stopped before they materialize, while less serious ones may lead to a review of a student’s mental health, behavioral or academic well-being.) Virginia’s policy, mandated by that Commonwealth’s legislature in 2008, has been extensively tested and recognized as a best practice, and the new Maryland policy draws on it as a model. The state also used other nationwide policies, procedures and best practices to inform its model policy development, including the Salem-Keizer System and information from the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI. School systems in Florida, Kentucky and Texas also have implemented threat assessment requirements for the 2019-2020 school year, and Washington State will join them in 2020-2021.

“The state level policy outlines the components for the development of a consistent policy at the local school system level,” Hession says. The model policy requirement is one of several mandated by the Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018, signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan in April 2018. The Act requires all public school systems to adopt a local policy consistent with the state policy. Developing the model policy is only half the task; the Center has since added behavioral threat assessment to its training program for school resource officers and has begun providing support related to training and outreach to local school systems.

“We’ve received lots of positive feedback on the model policy itself and on the associated training and support,” Hession says. “We aren’t planning any changes to the policy at the present time, but as we continue to receive new information, lessons learned and research on threat assessments, we may make adjustments.”

You can find the Maryland Model Policy here. To read an earlier TechBeat article on Virginia’s threat assessment model, go here. A recent article from Education Week explains the threat assessment process in detail; read it here.

Article photo: Tepikina Nastya/

officer at computer

National Criminal Justice Reference Service Provides Access to Funding, Publications

National Criminal Justice Reference Service Provides Access to Funding, Publications

With the end of the Justice Technology Information Center (JTIC) program on Dec. 31, 2019, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) takes over distribution of criminal justice-sensitive publications and the JTIC-produced tools, School Safe and Safeguarding Houses of Worship (SHOW).

The following reports now can be obtained from NCJRS:

  • Testing of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Law Enforcement Use in Indoor Tactical Missions.
  • Selection and Implementation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technology for Law Enforcement.
  • Countering the Threat of Jammers to Offender Tracking Programs.
  • Test and Evaluation of Hand-Held Cell Phone Detection Devices.
  • A Practical Guide for Offender Tracking Protocols.

School Safe and SHOW, both available as fillable PDFs, help school resource officers and administrators, and local houses of worship, assess safety and develop emergency plans. To obtain any of the above from NCJRS, send an email to from a legitimate government agency/law enforcement agency email address (no Yahoo, Gmail, etc.).

Inside view of house of worship

Members of the criminal justice community who previously obtained funding information via the JUSTNET website or JUSTNETNews can obtain this information directly from NCJRS. NCJRS provides information on the grant-making components of the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs (OJP), which is comprised of six bureaus and program offices. These agencies award federal financial assistance to support law enforcement and public safety activities in state, local and tribal jurisdictions; to assist victims of crime; to provide training and technical assistance; to conduct research; and to implement programs that improve the criminal, civil and juvenile justice systems. The Congressional appropriation that supports DOJ’s programs and operations reflects the priorities of the President, the Attorney General and Congress.

Recommended resources include:

  • DOJ Program Plan. The DOJ Program Plan helps applicants and grantees find funding opportunities (solicitations) that address their criminal, juvenile and civil justice needs. The DOJ Program Plan provides summary details of the funding opportunities each DOJ grant-making component is expecting to release, or has released, in the current fiscal year.
  • Listing of Current Funding Opportunities. The table lists all open OJP funding opportunities, with links to the full text of the solicitations and to the appropriate grants system to use in applying.
  • 2019 OJP Grant Application Resource Guide. The 2019 OJP Grant Application Resource Guide provides guidance to assist applicants with preparing and submitting applications for OJP funding, as well as information that may help potential applicants decide to apply for funding.
  • DOJ Financial Guide. The DOJ Grants Financial Guide serves as the primary reference manual to assist OJP, OVW and COPS Office award recipients in fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to safeguard grant funds and ensure funds are used for the purposes for which they were awarded.

For more information on the above resources, visit

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), part of OJP, awards grants and agreements for research, development and evaluation (CFDA 16.560). NIJ funds physical and social science research, development and evaluation projects about criminal justice through competitive solicitations. The focus of the solicitations varies from year to year based on research priorities and available funding.

  • Forensic laboratory enhancement. NIJ provides funding through formula and discretionary awards to reduce evidence backlogs and improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science and medical examiner services. Programs include the DNA Backlog Reduction Program (CFDA 16.471)  and the Paul Coverdell Forensic Sciences Improvement Grant Program (16.472).
  • Research fellowships. NIJ funds two fellowships through annual solicitations. The focus of the solicitations varies from year to year. Learn more about NIJ’s fellowship programs here.

Guidance for NIJ applicants and awardees can be found here.

Practitioners can subscribe to Funding News from NCJRS to learn about funding opportunities, grant-related events, and more from NCJRS and federal sponsors at here.

Article photo: Fat Jackey/


National Institute of Justice Launches New Criminal Justice Testing and Evaluation Consortium

National Institute of Justice Launches New Criminal Justice Testing and Evaluation Consortium

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) recently introduced the Criminal Justice Testing and Evaluation Consortium (CJTEC), a new program that unites the agency’s compliance testing and standards development efforts with a new focus on identifying the criminal justice community’s most important technology needs and developing rigorous and objective data about them.

CJTEC Director and Chief Forensic Scientist Jeri Ropero-Miller says that rather than attempting to influence current practice, the new program focuses on “getting ahead of the curve on innovative technologies. CJTEC is designed to help the entire criminal justice community get objective information as early in the adoption process as possible. The idea is to focus NIJ’s resources on rigorous testing and evaluation of technologies that we expect to come into practice in the next three to five years.”

To that end, NIJ has broken CJTEC down into four interlocking tasks that work together to bring those results to the courts, corrections and law enforcement communities. The process starts with technology foraging, also known as technology scouting, as Task 1. The idea, Ropero-Miller says, is that CJTEC will assess the full range of technologies in commercial development and try to determine what’s close to implementation for the law enforcement, courts and corrections communities.

Female officer putting a vest on

“For example, wearables is an emerging area, and we’re doing some foraging there. We’re looking at how wearables can be deployed in both law enforcement and corrections to do a variety of tasks,” Ropero-Miller says. “A lot of people are wondering whether wearables can actually determine the safety and wellness of officers on duty. We’re looking to promote understanding of how these tools can actually make practitioners’ lives better.”

Another example is driving under the influence of drugs (DUID); Ropero-Miller says CJTEC is taking a look at various roadside technologies and practices that will help officers determine if drivers are under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, in addition to examining new methods of alcohol testing. Task 2 at times may flow directly out of Task 1: it’s the actual testing and evaluation work.

“Through foraging, we will identify the most important issues and develop rigorous and objective data about those technologies,” Ropero-Miller says. These testing and evaluation efforts take place through the efforts of various consortium members, including lead agency RTI International and various universities, criminal justice agencies and criminal justice associations.

“These combined efforts will help us capitalize on the very best expertise in T&E, and allow us to focus on areas where information would be lacking without NIJ’s funding this work,” Ropero-Miller says.

In addition to the consortium of agencies that makes up the heart of CJTEC, the new program will also draw on the efforts of another NIJ-funded consortium, the Criminal Justice Priority Technology Needs Initiative. Ropero-Miller explains that the Initiative convenes working groups of subject-matter experts who identify specific research needs in assigned focus areas, and CJTEC will also use their reports to determine where to focus Task 1 and Task 2 efforts.

“We’re essentially doing secondary research, as well as potential test and evaluation efforts, in the areas they identify. We’ll be doing landscape studies of available technology, similar to those RTI does now with the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence, as well as more traditional operational evaluations where we put the technology in the hands of users and let them assess practicality, robustness, probability of implementation and ability to meet or exceed manufacturer’s claims,” she says. “We’ll also be doing assessments of the impact of putting this technology into place in the criminal justice setting.”

CJTEC’s Task 4 will back up those efforts by continuing NIJ’s standards development process, previously conducted by the Justice Technology Information Center (JTIC has been closing out efforts throughout 2019, and will end on December 31.) CJTEC takes over the management of the existing Special Technical Committees (STCs) of practitioners, subject-matter experts and laboratory personnel, including those for ballistic- and stab-resistant body armor. Those efforts are expected to wind down in 2020 with the release of new versions of the existing standards. CJTEC will then turn its emphasis to new areas to include ballistic shields, firearms and civil disturbance unit (CDU) equipment.

“We expect CDU equipment to be a fairly major enterprise. We’re looking at its full range and we expect several standards to be updated or created,” Ropero-Miller says. “This will be a major part of what we’ll be working on over the next two to three years. There’s a great deal of interest in making sure that officers not only have the tools to do their work safely and reliably, but they also have access to safe and effective policies and procedures. We’re looking at creating a broader STC that focuses on all kinds of personal protective equipment.”

And finally, Task 3 maintains a long-standing NIJ effort: Operation of the Compliance Testing Program (CTP). The majority of the staff that ran the program under JTIC moved over to CJTEC, with a goal of making the transition so seamless that program participants and the criminal justice community barely noticed a change.

“The goal was to have no interruption in the testing process. We communicated the need for a brief shutdown to the stakeholders, and they planned accordingly,” says CTP Manager Alex Sundstrom. “We’re now back up and running and everything is on track.”

Sundstrom did note that manufacturers have slowed down on developing new ballistic-resistant models that comply with the 0101.06 version of the standard in anticipation of the publication of the 0101.07 version. This allowed staff to temporarily focus on ballistic-resistant Follow-up Inspection and Testing (FIT) and prepare for the inception of a FIT program for stab-resistant models as well.

CTP Task Lead Lance Miller notes there were several challenges in switching program management from one company to another, as well as physically moving operations from the Washington, D.C., metro area to Raleigh, N.C.

“There were several challenges, but we focused on making the change seamless to program stakeholders to the largest extent possible. There are still a lot of things going on behind the scenes, but as issues emerge, staff has responded. We’ve been continuously communicating with NIJ, and I believe that nearly everyone felt the transition was indeed seamless,” he says.

For more information on CJTEC, contact Jeri Ropero-Miller at or NIJ Program Manager Steve Schuetz at

Article photo: Justice Technology Information Center

Police talking on walkie-talkie

Vicarious Trauma Series Provides Coping Assistance to Forensic Professionals

Vicarious Trauma Series Provides Coping Assistance to Forensic Professionals

Grieving family members, unable to understand the need for autopsies when their loved ones obviously died in a fire. Parents and spouses wondering if terrorism or an accident caused a serious plane crash. And the seemingly unending quest to identify victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

All of those challenges – from the March 25, 1990 Happy Land Social Club fire and the Nov. 12, 2001 American Airlines Flight 587 crash, in addition to the 9/11 victims – faced members of the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office during the tenure of Dr. Thomas Brondolo as deputy commissioner. When Dr. Brondolo left that office, he began reflecting on the need for research and the development of resources to help coroners and medical examiners deal with the aftermath of such stressful events. The results of that research, conducted under a partnership between St. Johns University and Kent State University, were presented during an October webinar, “Handling Difficult and Disturbing Cases for Coroners and Medical Examiners,” presented as part of a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) webinar series on experiencing and coping with exposure to vicarious trauma. Like all of the webinars in this series, an archival version of the event can be accessed here.

Police Line tape

According to the FTCoE website, forensic nurses, crime scene investigators, forensic practitioners, medicolegal death investigators and other professionals experience vicarious trauma through exposure to the aftermath of violent crime and to its victims. Often, these professionals present symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and may use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or other forms of self-medication. Also, the criminal justice culture’s stress on self-reliance often keeps these individuals from seeking the help they need. Some research efforts have taken place on coping with vicarious trauma for first responders, but fewer resources are available for forensic professionals. With this webinar series, the FTCoE seeks to explore common strategies and resources derived from existing research and offer guidance to forensic practitioners and the broader criminal justice community on how they can be leveraged. Events also address recommended methods of maintaining workforce resiliency.

Other webinars in the series include:

  • Digital and Multimedia Forensics: The Impact of Disturbing Media. Speaker: Dr. Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar.
  • The Vicarious Trauma Toolkit – an Evidence-Informed Resource for Organizations. Speakers: Dr. Beth E. Molnar and Karen Irene Kalergis, MA.
  • Psychological Survival in a Violent Career. Speaker: Dr. David Christiansen.
  • Psychological Survival in a Violent Career: Follow-up. Speaker: Dr. Christiansen.

Additional FTCoE Resources on vicarious trauma include an episode of Just Science, the center’s podcast series (Forensic Advancement: Just Psychological Resiliency) that includes an interview with Dr. Christiansen, and an older webinar titled “Health, Stress, and Wellness in Policing: Current Issues and Emergent Solutions.”

Additional FTCoE webinars on topics as varied as using Rapid DNA in disaster victim identification, providing assistance to victims of sexual assault and the latest firearm/toolmark research can be found here. Access to all events is free. Notifications about upcoming events are published in the FTCoE’s weekly electronic newsletter; subscribe here.

Article photo: Loren Rodgers/

Police handing out supplies

Badges for Basics Helps KCPD Develop Community Rapport

Badges for Basics Helps KCPD Develop Community Rapport

After the first 20 minutes, the officers staffing the “pop-up” Badges for Basics table might have begun to wonder if the whole thing was a mistake. Although the event gave community members a chance to obtain much-needed toiletries for free, it appeared that the officers couldn’t give the products away.

Finally, a few skeptical people stopped to find out what the event was all about. They took the products, passed the time of day, and went home and called their friends. In a few minutes, the rush was on.

Badges for Basics, a program of the Kansas City (Mo.) Police Department, stems from a partnership developed with Giving the Basics, a nonprofit organization based in Kansas City with a nationwide outreach. Giving the Basics has 511 distribution sites in the greater Kansas City area, working with schools, food pantries, other charitable organizations and now several police departments, including KCPD, in an effort to provide much-needed and hard-to-afford hygiene items to those in need.

Tables of collected supplies

“It’s a grassroots effort to help the police departments make a direct community relations impact,” says Giving the Basics Executive Director Teresa Hamilton. “Interested departments need to register with us, and Kansas City has offered to mentor other departments that want to join the effort.” To that end, the two organizations have teamed up on a videoconference to explain the project.

Officer Vito Mazzara, who leads the Badges for Basics effort, says the partnership started when Hamilton cold-called the agency, and because of his work in community policing, he was soon drawn into the effort.

“A lot of people living in apartment complexes are on state-provided income and also get food stamps. Those programs do not cover the purchase of hygiene products. I realized it would be an amazing thing to provide people with products they normally don’t have because they have no money to buy them,” Mazzara says.

One of the apartment complexes in his area offered to host a chili cook-off to coincide with Badges for Basics first “pop-up” giveaway event, and within 45 minutes, all the items were gone. But rather than become angry that the giveaway had run out, residents still lingered, talking with the officers and building up a rapport. Officers asked them which products they liked, which ones they did not need, and used that information to develop a baseline of what items were needed.

“We found out that the two most demanded products were, and still remain, deodorant and paper towels,” Mazzara says. “I didn’t realize it, but deodorant is a luxury item for many people, and many people go without it.”

Obtaining that baseline helped KCPD create an inventory of items that people both want and use. Giving the Basics provides individual items to KCPD and other partners, not prepackaged hygiene kits that may contain useless items. “People don’t need a new toothbrush every month, but they do need shampoo,” Hamilton says.

All items come directly from manufacturers to maintain consistency of product, and are funded either by donations from the companies themselves or by monetary donations. Giving the Basics uses this approach rather than holding drives to collect toiletries, which again, often result in items that do not meet community needs, Hamilton says.

“We hold these pop-up events where we just appear at an intersection and set up tables with the products. This gives officers a chance to explain what we have, give them what they need and start building a rapport,” Mazzara says. “We’ve had people who were skeptical at first, and a week later they walk into a station and ask if they can have more. At some point in the future, building that rapport might help de-escalate a situation.”

KCPD doesn’t use Badges for Basics as an end to collecting tips, Mazzara says, although they have received some unsolicited information. Rather, the project’s goal is to promote and encourage community safety and help improve the general well-being of an area. He says he uses the time to talk to them and find out about their families, making sure every family member has his or her own toothbrush, that mothers with large families get plenty of soap and so on.

“We used our heat maps to identify the areas with the highest incidence of violent crime and used that to select the intersections for our pop-up events. We don’t advertise ahead of time, we just show up,” he says. “I also carry a case of water in my car and just hand it out to people on the street. They will start talking to me while they drink it, and as we talk, they come to realize that I’m just there to speak with them, nothing more. It’s a new approach and sometimes the community residents don’t know what to expect either.”

Mazzara also was not sure what to expect from within his own agency either, but when his superiors realized he was using his own personal time to organize and administer the program, they made sure he had plenty of work hours allocated for the tracking tasks. He gets additional support in the form of captains and commanders showing up to do their turn at the pop-up events, which somewhat startles residents and also indicates the agency’s commitment to the effort. It’s just one way that the agency presents itself as caring about the community — by caring about how the community is able to present itself.

“It’s all about how you present yourself. Being clean gives your confidence when you’re trying to get a job or volunteering to answer questions in school. We’re here to help people get stronger and cleaner so they can really soar,” says Hamilton. ‘It creates an amazing change and we’re hoping we’ll also be watching crime go down in these areas.”

For more information on how an agency can start its own project, contact Giving the Basics at

Article photo: Kansas City (Mo.) Police Department

Officer laughing with students in cafeteria

Brunch Patrol Seeks to Build Positive Relationships Between Students, Police

Brunch Patrol Seeks to Build Positive Relationships Between Students, Police

During the kickoff for the Normandy Schools Collaborative’s “Brunch Patrol,” after watching local police officers share a meal and interact with high school students, a local reporter approached Chief of Security Steve Harmon and asked the date of the next time.

Tomorrow, Harmon said. This isn’t a once-a-quarter special event; it’s an everyday thing.

That everyday thing means that officers from the 12 municipal police departments in the Normandy, Mo., school district are welcome in any of the seven schools’ cafeterias, any time, to share a free breakfast or lunch and a visit with students. (Two of the local departments provide two school resource officers each to the district, but student interaction with officers from the other 10 agencies usually happens outside of school.)

Children in lunchroom laughing

Harmon says in an area and an era where distrust of law enforcement trends high, the program’s goal is to help build healthy, positive relationships between students and local law enforcement, and he hopes the Brunch Patrol can lead to encounters along the lines of “how ya doin’ Officer Mike,” rather than those that are more negative.

Harmon, a retired police officer and attorney who took over the security chief’s position in 2018, says that although the district will have some minimal costs for the additional meals, he thinks the payoff in improved relationships will be well worth it: “I hope this will foster relationships between students, their families, local law enforcement and everyone in the community.”

The need for improved community relationships hits close to home. Teenager Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, graduated from Normandy High School. The shooting touched off protests that lasted for weeks. A grand jury decided not to indict the officer.

Harmon hopes the Brunch Patrol program can be a part of an effort to ensure that his suburban St. Louis district does not experience anything like the incidents in neighboring Ferguson in the future. To that end, local law enforcement provided a strong turnout for the mid-September kickoff event, and Harmon hopes the officers continue to come out during the rest of the school year. He believes that a strong show of support from the administrations of the local law enforcement agencies and the school district provide a strong indication that they will.

“We’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from both of them, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out we had strong support from the teachers as well. They told me they thought it was ‘the neatest thing’ and wondered why no one ever thought of it before,” Harmon says. “Local officers have always been encouraged to stop in and visit with students when they had time, but adopting an official program with a name gives them that much more incentive to stop in, share a meal and make some friends.”

Although it is too soon to begin measuring the program’s success, the positive feedback from stakeholders and the fact that officers continued to stop in at the various schools for meals following the kickoff event provide encouraging initial indicators.

“Things are no different here than in many other communities in the United States in that there is a need to improve relations between communities and the police,” Harmon says of the 3,200-student district, which encompasses a high school, an early learning center and five elementary schools.

“I hope that other school districts and departments pick up on it. There are all kinds of Police Athletic Leagues around the country that sponsor baseball, basketball and boxing. This could be another tool in that toolbox,” he says. “The students never get a chance to interact with police officers in a laughing, joking manner. This gives them a chance to see the police in a different light and maybe flip their attitude about officers to a positive one.”

For more information, contact Steve Harmon at

Article photo:

2 minority women at coffee shop

Program Provides a Safe Place to Report Hate Crimes

Program Provides a Safe Place to Report Hate Crimes

It is not uncommon for businesses to display several decals in their front windows, maybe something from a security company or a local chamber of commerce. In some 130-plus cities in the United States, businesses also display a rainbow decal that includes the words “Safe Place.”

The city of San Jose, Calif., and its police department recently joined that group as a member of the Safe Place program that originated in Seattle in 2015. Seattle’s Safe Place program originally focused on LGBT hate crimes, but later expanded to include all types of hate crimes. With its success, the Seattle Police Department created a program-specific website and began encouraging other departments to join.

Safe Space sticker on door

The program sounds simple: police departments recruit businesses and train their employees on how to provide a safe place for victims of hate crimes to get help with reporting, then allow those businesses to display the Safe Place decal. The San Jose Police Department expects the program to pay huge dividends, not only in additional reports of hate crimes but also with an improved perception that San Jose is a community that cares about people’s safety.

“When a city has really strong adoption and someone walking along the street sees a lot of these stickers, it lets them know that this a community and a police department that cares and that takes hate crimes seriously,” says Officer James Gonzales, program coordinator. “It creates a sense of security that if something does happen, you will receive help. This tells people that if something terrible does happen to them, we will do something about it.”

San Jose’s participation in the program started in August with about 70 Starbucks and Wells Fargo locations as the original partners; those two businesses already participated in the program in other cities. As soon as the word got out, Gonzales says, SJPD began getting applications from credit unions, schools, nail parlors, ice cream shops and many other businesses. Participants must sign an agreement indicating that at least two employees are on duty during all hours the business is open, and that one will contact 911 while the other remains with the victim, making him or her comfortable. All employees must receive training in these procedures before the police department will accept the business as a partner.

“Seattle has worked hard to make sure that participating cities use a consistent method and consistent training,” Gonzales says. “They warned us that there might be a spike in reported hate crimes, not because the actual rate increased but rather because people feel more comfortable reporting when they know the program exists.”

He adds that businesses can perform the training on their own, using materials provided by the police department, or the SJPD will provide onsite training on request.

“We’re not expecting a flood of individuals coming into businesses and reporting crimes, but it’s important that employees receive the proper training on how to react if someone does come in. It’s more likely the police department will receive an increased volume of reports through traditional channels because residents know that this is a city that will respond,” Gonzales says.

Because San Jose wanted to be perceived as a city that will respond, its community advisory board had looked at a number of existing initiatives before deciding to deploy Safe Place. Although it’s too soon to statistically measure results, Gonzales says the department believes it is already improving community relations.

The Safe Place concept is specifically intended to be managed by local law enforcement, not the participating businesses or community organizations. It also includes an optional anti-bullying initiative. To learn more, visit here.

Article photo:

NIST Offers Free Software to Help Agencies Test Computer Forensics Tools

NIST Offers Free Software to Help Agencies Test Computer Forensics Tools

Such a small item, this cellphone dropped by a suspect fleeing at the scene of a failed drug deal. But potentially, this small item could yield vital evidence in preparing a case that would stop the drug deals for good. And the investigators want to be absolutely sure they’re using the right version of the right forensic tool that will produce that evidence in a manner that will hold up in court.

They turn to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Computer Forensics Tool Testing (CFTT) project to get the help they need to ensure that it will.

Created in 1999 in the early years of the Information Age, CFTT offers computer forensics assistance to law enforcement agencies in two ways: through posting tool testing reports produced by NIST researchers and through offering free Federated Testing software that allows agencies to test tools on their own.

Launched in November 2015 with a version that allows agencies to check disk imaging capabilities, Federated Testing consists of a downloadable Linux CD .iso file. Agencies can burn the file to a blank CD, then use that CD to boot a forensic workstation and test a tool or tools via a user-friendly interface.

“For 15 years we just did this ourselves, and law enforcement used our reports to help select the appropriate tools,” says Barbara Guttman, leader of the Software Quality Group. “We got to the point where there are so many tools out there, with new versions released all the time to correspond with new versions of mobile devices and new versions of apps, and how can you test all of them? The obvious answer was someone other than NIST has to do some of it or we can’t keep up.”

The Federated Testing software started with disk imaging because the first and most basic step in computer forensics investigations is to make a copy, thus leaving the original intact. NIST added the capability to test mobile forensics data extraction tools in June 2017, and write blocking capability will come online this fall. Agencies can sign up on the CFTT website ( to receive notification when a new version becomes available.

In its early months of availability, Version 1.0 of Federated Testing averaged about 35 downloads a month, and with the addition of the mobile forensics suite, that number should increase, says the Software Quality Group’s Ben Livelsberger. During 2017, NIST has provided technical assistance to a public defender’s office in Missouri and officers out of the United Kingdom, indicating agencies are already putting the downloaded software to use. And NIST encourages users to submit copies of their reports via email so that they, too, can be posted on the CFTT website and shared with other agencies.

“Law enforcement agencies and universities can use it to not only help themselves directly, they can also use it to help each other,” Guttman says. “Sharing information will reduce everybody’s workload, and if we can help each other out, isn’t that a more efficient way of doing things? The result is a big win for law enforcement, and it can also be a big win for the vendor community, because they can use the reports to help them improve their tools.”

Guttman cautions that tools that “work correctly” still aren’t perfect; for example, it’s not possible to recover every single deleted file.

“We say we want the tools to work right, and in order to do that, we first have to define what ‘right’ is. Sometimes all we’re doing is characterizing what they can and can’t do so they can be used effectively,” she says.

The Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence is developing a soon-to-be-released report that will help support using test reports even if a different version of the tool was tested.

“What they’re really saying is it’s unlikely that major versions will have bugs that will turn out to be relevant to your workload, and if you did extremely specific testing all the time, you’d never get any actual work done,” she says.

The Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center, provided the original funding. Ongoing funding for the project comes from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

To research posted test reports or download the Federated Testing software, visit Reports produced prior to March 2013 can be located at here.

For more information, contact Rich Press in the NIST Public Affairs Office at

Article photo: Igor Stevanovic/Alamy Stock Photo

Two police officers walking down street

Webinar Focuses on Reducing Traffic Fatalities

Webinar Focuses on Reducing Traffic Fatalities

“Are you the new trooper in town?” the waitress asked one of her customers. “We know one of you lives here now, because people see him everywhere.”

Neither the trooper she asked nor any other Iowa state trooper had moved to that small town. However, community members thinking one had means that the state’s emphasis on community “touches” to reduce traffic crashes and fatalities is working.

The Iowa program, along with another initiative sponsored by the Metro Nashville Police Department, was featured in Reducing Traffic Fatalities in Urban and Rural Areas: Notes from NIJ’s LEADS Program, a webinar held August 1 cosponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Justice Clearinghouse. Featured speakers Capt. Ken Clary of the Iowa State Patrol and Sgt. James Williams of Metro Nashville, both NIJ LEADS scholars, explained the origins of their projects, their impacts to date and their plans for the future.

“It’s a different way of thinking about traffic,” Clary says. “It’s not the citations we write, but the crashes we prevent, that measure our success.”

In a 10-year period ending in 2017, the United States saw 37,000 deaths result from traffic accidents, compared to 16,000 from murder, so “reducing traffic deaths may not be the sexiest statistic, but law enforcement can make its largest impact trying to reduce those,” he says. Iowa’s program set out to do that by changing driver behavior, because 94 percent of traffic accidents result from human behavior such as not wearing seat belts, driving while impaired, looking at devices and speeding.

Because 70 percent of traffic accidents occur on rural roads, Clary developed a program focused on determining traffic accident hot spots throughout the state:

Police officer writing ticket in traffic stop

two towns and one rural roadway in each county. Throughout 2018, 16 state troopers made several “touches” every day in these hot spots areas, establishing a frequent law enforcement presence where formerly there was none.

Clary explains that due to staff shortages, the Iowa State Patrol had mainly focused its traffic enforcement efforts on highways and interstates, but 70 percent of all accidents take place on rural roads, usually within a couple of miles of town limits.

“We are social beings, we get together, we drink to excess, and we take a calculated risk that we will not see law enforcement. The accidents don’t happen in the towns, where the speed limits are low and there are no curves,” Clary says. “Rather, as soon as they get out of town where they speed up and have to navigate curves, accidents start to happen at a high rate.”

He could have asked his troopers to go into the towns and make highly visible traffic stops on the town square. Instead, he asked them go into bars and talk to patrons about not drinking and driving, or visit with farmers having their morning coffee at the local convenience store to talk about the importance of wearing seat belts. Swinging through the towns and making frequent stops generates ongoing conversations among the residents and creates perceptions like the incident with the waitress mentioned above: “I told them to go where they’re not expected, when they’re not expected,” he says

The group of 16 troopers did this as their sole responsibility throughout 2018, and made almost 10,000 “touches.” In 2019, a group of 78 troopers is spending one hour per shift focused on this task, and made a similar number in the first quarter alone. The George Mason University Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy will help with data analysis so that the Iowa State Patrol can study the impact of the program.

The Metro Nashville Police Department also initiated a program to reduce traffic fatalities, starting in 2017 and expanding efforts in 2018. Three major interstates meet in downtown Nashville, and in all, the department is responsible for 2,200 miles of public right of way. Officers spend an average of 100 minutes per accident on response and reconstruction.

Metro Nashville first identified hot spots by looking at the roadways leading up to high-incident intersections. The Tennessee Department of Safety helped with analysis on contributing factors, determining that the majority of accidents resulted from following too closely, and the department selected the area around the intersection of Murfreesboro Pike and Dell Parkway for its pilot site.

“Anyone who takes crash reports knows that following too closely usually stems from something else, such as looking at their phones or being distracted for another reason. It doesn’t necessarily mean they were tailgating,” Williams says.

Metro Nashville decided to take a Highly Visible Enforcement (HVE) approach to try to encourage voluntary compliance and a change in behaviors. The department began by making frequent and highly visible stops during a two-hour period, two days a week, just before and during the evening rush hour.

“We gave them very specific instructions to focus on driving too closely, distracted driving, speeding and improper lane changes,” Williams says. “The goal was to be in the right place and the right time to stop the right offenders.”

Initial results were generally encouraging, although the department learned that the original plan of one week of enforcement per month resulted in accident rates initially dropping, then increasing by the third week, indicating a need for a three-, rather than a four-week enforcement period. The program then expanded to a trial run that included seven total hot spots, and during the initial trial run of the expanded program, the project led to an overall 22-percent reduction in crashes.

“We now hope to institutionalize it and make it something we do continuously instead of just now and then,” Williams says. “We also want to improve our internal data analysis. We were lucky to have the state help us get started, but we need to do it on our own in the future.”

To access an archived version of the webinar, visit here. Membership in the Justice Clearinghouse is required. Established in 2014 through a partnership between NIJ and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) Program develops the research capacity of mid-career law enforcement personnel who are committed to advancing and integrating science into law enforcement policies and practice. To accomplish this, merit-based scholarships are competitively awarded to mid-rank officers from agencies of any size and executives from small agencies who have effectively infused research into policy development within their agencies. For more information, visit here.


Article photo: sirtravelalot/

Students in class texting on phone

Safe Schools Maryland Tip Line Offers Two-Way Anonymity

Safe Schools Maryland Tip Line Offers Two-Way Anonymity

Some weeks the calls seem to focus on bullying. During prom and homecoming seasons, more calls may come in about drinking and drugs. After a school shooting elsewhere in the country, there might be more about planned attacks. Whatever the topic, staff at the Maryland Center for School Safety take all tips to its new Safe Schools Maryland Tip Line seriously, moving them through a process that ensures they will receive swift attention from the appropriate administrator or law enforcement agency.

Launched on Oct. 3, 2018, in response to a directive from Gov. Larry Hogan following the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and Great Mills High School in Maryland, the Safe Schools Maryland Tip Line can be accessed by students, parents, school staff and the community through a phone number (1-833-MD-B-SAFE), the Internet ( and a free mobile app (Safe Schools MD iOS / Android). Public schools in all 24 Maryland counties have signed on to the tip line, and Maryland Center for School Safety staff are working to engage the state’s private schools as well.

“It’s easier for school systems to sign-up with the statewide tip line than establish one of their own, and it saves them money over having their own tip line,” says Emily Allen Lucht, the center’s communications and media specialist. “It also helps make connections if a student lives in one county but knows about something happening in another county.”

Using the state tip line also guarantees quicker access to a wider array of services, and it saves the school systems money since they don’t have to contract with vendors to provide services such as IT and tip monitoring. Trained tip takers staff the state’s line, reaching out to designated law enforcement or administrative contacts in each area.

operator at call center

School Safety Analyst Sandra Caldwell notes that in a number of cases, students have reported concerns about friends who were battling depression or other emotional issues, and thanks to the tips, those students received the mental health services they needed. Other tips have enabled authorities to stop planned fights before they happen, and possibly to avert school shootings as well.

Lucht recalls a mother who came to the Maryland Center for School Safety exhibit at a conference to say her child was being bullied. Lucht showed her how to submit a tip and then tracked its progress from behind the scenes to ensure that the child has a safety plan in place for the 2019-2020 school year.

“If it’s a planned attack, the tip takers alert 911 and get things rolling right away. On tips that aren’t as urgent, they work with the school system,” Caldwell says.

Students walking to schoolAlthough that particular conference proved especially memorable, Lucht and Caldwell have put in plenty of time visiting similar conferences and conducting other outreach efforts to let schools know about the tip line. They have also made marketing materials available on the center’s website. Center staff is also working this summer to train safety partners in the state’s new Maryland Model School Resource Officer/School Security Employee Training Course.

“We didn’t go into this blindly; rather, we worked with our center advisory board and most importantly, with students and teachers to find the best way to reach out,” Lucht says. “We wanted to be sure we could connect with all students, not just those who have devices, and make sure we had well-rounded strategies because what works in an urban area might not work in a rural one. We’ve had students step up and offer feedback, and some of their creativity is mind blowing.”

An important feature built-in to the system is the ability for two-way anonymous communication. Each tip is associated with a log-in ID number, rather than a telephone number or a person’s name, and if the submitter wants to follow up or add more information, they use the log-in number to maintain anonymity.

In addition to supplying feedback into the development of the tip line, Maryland schools and counties participate in a weekly conference call with the center to brainstorm and share ideas. Lucht says: “Safety is not just a school by school situation anymore. At the end of the day, it’s a nationwide effort to try to create safer schools and safer communities.”

To find out more, visit here.

Article photo: John-james Gerber/, Joe Gough/