By Chris Francescani
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bill Bratton, the high-profile police commissioner who has run three of America's largest police forces, is preparing to launch the first comprehensive social media network for police officers - a kind of Facebook for cops.
The network, known as BlueLine, will be launched globally at the International Association of Police Chiefs annual conference in Philadelphia in October.
BlueLine is part of a growing trend in high-tech information-sharing among law enforcement agencies that proponents say is producing a force-multiplying effect on crime-fighting in an era of dwindling police budgets and manpower. The collaboration enables better communication between different jurisdictions and helps police identify patterns of criminality.
Combining the most popular user functions of a number of leading social media sites, BlueLine is being billed by Bratton as the first secure network for cops. It's also a safer alternative for a younger generation of officers who Bratton says share a shocking amount of information on public networks.
"If you're a SWAT officer, gives you the ability to find other SWAT officers in departments around the country and engage them, share best practices, talk about innovations," Bratton told Reuters recently.
The for-profit company behind BlueLine, Bratton Technologies, was founded to develop the proprietary product, and aims to generate revenue from a spectrum of cop-related products - everything "from socks to Glocks," said BT Chief Strategy Officer Jack Weiss.
The network is being beta-tested this summer among about 100 officers in the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the University of Southern California police force.
Several dozen more police departments will join the beta test later this summer, said Bratton, who is BT's chief executive officer.
Most existing law enforcement information-sharing networks involve sharing intelligence about specific cases, while BlueLine is geared toward collaboration on policing issues like gangs or drugs and product and technology advances.
Bratton has led the New York, Los Angeles and Boston police departments and was responsible in 1995 for introducing Compstat - a groundbreaking software-driven, crime-fighting strategy that mapped crime patterns and enabled real-time deployment of forces. For him, "collaboration is the key to successful policing."
BlueLine includes the key elements and the look of Facebook, with "like" and "share" buttons and the ability to post messages, photos or video clips on a wall visible to other users.
The network also features secure videoconferencing capabilities and an iTunes-like app store open to third-party developers. A commercial component will allow companies that make policing products to market them directly to members of the roughly 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States and beyond.
The startup is being funded by G2 Investment Group, said G2 Chief Executive Officer Todd Morley. Bratton declined to say how much capital was involved.
CROWDSOURCING COP COMMUNITIES
Open only to accredited law enforcement officers, BlueLine users can create or join customized groups, with names like Gangs, Narcotics, New Technology or Sex Crimes - and then "crowdsource" colleagues for help with general aspects of investigations.
One group might discuss the benefits and drawbacks of a new type of police radio, or a new drug that has hit the streets of their town.
If a gangs investigator in one department comes across an unfamiliar tattoo on a suspected gang member, the cop can post it to a Gangs network, and someone from another department may help identify it as the sign of a new crew. Members can search for each other by name, geography, expertise and interest.
Data analytics companies are developing BlueLine applications, which will let users create databases - of gang tattoos or graffiti tags, for instance - and analyze them.
BlueLine will operate a secured network requiring multiple verifications to join, with protocols based on the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) guidelines, established to ensure secure transmission of criminal case information online, said David Riker, president of Bratton Technologies.
"This is not intended to replace strategic police communications capabilities," said Bratton. "It is primarily for people to find each other," he said. "We are quite clear about the guardrails we are staying within."
(Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by Arlene Getz, Douglas Royalty and Prudence Crowther)