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Police in Nottingham trial RFID to track hundreds of Tasers

08/16/09 | John R. Johnson | email

Police forces in the UK are unique in that they are among the few in the world that do not regularly carry firearms. However, police officers now carry Tasers, and law enforcement agencies in the UK are using RFID technology to trace and track the weapons. Since legislation passed allowing police forces to carry Tasers at the beginning of this year, their use has skyrocketed. Therefore, the need for a technology solution to track and maintain them was critical.

RFID is being piloted at about 20 police stations in Nottingham, with wider usage anticipated by the end of the year. Each police department in Nottingham has deployed between 8 and 36 Tasers, depending on staff size, meaning that several hundred are being tagged in the pilot, which utilizes passive RFID tags that measure only 7.9 millimeters in diameter.

According to published reports, UK defense officials recently approved the eventual distribution of more than 10,000 Tasers to be used in England and Wales. Depending on the trial results, each weapon could eventually carry an RFID tag. The use of RFID to track firearms is not new. The Department of Defense has been utilizing RFID to track weapons for years, and ODIN technology announced a pilot at the University of Wisconsin earlier this year. The technology has been slower to catch on with individual police departments in the U.S., since states in the U.S. each have their own regulations to follow.

"It's a very interesting application," says Maria Kaganov, director of marketing for TAGSYS, which is supplying the tags and readers for the solution while working with system integrator RFIP of the UK. "Overall we’ve seen a lot of requests for weapons tracking solutions. This I our first foray into it, but the solution is working very well." The TAGSYS and RFIP system is dubbed the Intelligent Drawer Armory System (iDAS), and utilizes embedded RFID technology to automatically record the issue and return of weapons to a secure storage locker. The solution not only automates inefficient manual weapons issuing processes, but also provides a complete service history for each weapon, generates audit reports for supervisors, prevents issue of weapons to un-authorized officers and improves weapon security. When a weapon is returned that is not in working order, the locker automatically prevents the weapon from being checked out again until a supervisor has cleared the issue.

In the current installation, the police department is keeping track of its Tasers using RFID-equipped storage cabinets. Each Taser is tagged with a high frequency TAGSYS Ario 370-SDM (Small Disc Module) RFID tag, and monitored using TAGSYS Medio P032 OEM RFID readers and antennas mounted in the cabinet.

"The TAGSYS Ario tags are very small, making them easy to apply to the Tasers without interference with the functionality of the weapon, but they also provide a reliable read range," says David Armstrong, director at RFIP Ltd. "The tags are very rugged, which is important given the environments these weapons are typically used in."

When an officer needs a Taser, he presents his identification card to a card reader on the cabinet. At this stage, the system establishes if the officer is authorized to carry a weapon. Upon authorization, a touch screen attached to the system guides the officer through a series of legal and procedural notices and the Taser is then electronically signed for before the system signals one of the drawers to open. The authenticated officer then removes the Taser, and the weapon is automatically allocated to him within the asset management application from JML Software Solutions Ltd., a UK-based company that specializes in asset tracking solutions for law enforcement.

The solution has provided the department with a complete pedigree for each weapon, allowing supervisors to track which officers have used which units. This provides the department with a robust audit trail for any investigation regarding the use of a Taser, or the relevant officer's training record.

"In the beginning of the year when officers were allowed to begin carrying Tasers, they had an issue regarding process changes and wanted to simplify the tracking and tracing system," says Kaganov. "This solution allows them to track and trace who has which Taser and at which point, but also how often the Taser has been used, so they can rotate the usage of the weapon. It also allows them to do maintenance on weapons that are malfunctioning."

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