Office of Justice Programs National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Centers

Audit Report 07-22
March 2007
Office of the Inspector General


The Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Audit Division, has completed an audit of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Centers (NLECTC) program. Established in 1994, the NLECTC program was created to provide a mechanism for facilitating the introduction of new technologies into the law enforcement community and to provide technical assistance to state and local law enforcement in implementing those technologies.

The NLECTC program is managed by the Office of Justice Program’s (OJP) National Institute of Justice (NIJ), which is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. The NIJ’s mission is to advance scientific research, development, and evaluation to enhance the administration of justice and public safety.

There are over 18,000 police departments in the United States, 50 state correctional systems, thousands of prisons, jails, parole and probation departments, and other public safety organizations. Although the law enforcement community relies on various technologies to accomplish its law enforcement functions, not every law enforcement organization is knowledgeable about the latest technologies and whether those technologies will meet its needs.

According to NIJ officials, one of the NIJ’s roles is to facilitate the movement of technological advances from the laboratories to law enforcement. To accomplish this, the NIJ established a network of centers located throughout the country to provide assistance to state and local law enforcement by supporting research and development of new technologies and providing information and technical assistance on existing technologies. The NLECTC program is comprised of 10 such centers, including a central hub, 5 regional technology centers, and 4 specialty sites. NLECTC-National, located in Rockville, Maryland, serves as the hub for the five regional centers (NLECTC-Northeast, -Northwest, -Rocky Mountain, -Southeast, and -West) that are located throughout the United States. The four specialty sites include the Border Research Technology Center (BRTC), the Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES), the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization (OLETC), and the Rural Law Enforcement Technology Center (RULETC).3 The map below shows the location and region for each of the 10 centers.


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Source: National Institute of Justice

To facilitate the use and adoption of technologies by law enforcement agencies, the centers offer a wide array of training and technical assistance to local law enforcement in the areas of forensics, body armor, audio analysis, communications, crime mapping, and less-lethal technology. With regard to competing technologies developed by the private sector and marketed to law enforcement agencies, the centers tout as one of their central tenets their role as “honest brokers” in evaluating the relative merits of those products. The centers also serve to facilitate research and development activities through their close relationship with their various “host” agencies.

The technology centers are not standalone operations. Instead they are “hosted” by either a private organization or governmental agency. In general, the host organizations were selected based on the need for technical expertise in a particular area. While more than one center may be involved in a particular technology, each site has a distinct focus area, depending in large part on the expertise of the host organization (see Appendix III). Most of the centers are staffed by professionals from the host agency, which allows for unique access to those agencies’ vast resources. NLECTC-West, for example, is staffed by its host agency, the Aerospace Corporation, and thus is able to leverage the agency’s human and technological assets for research and development and adapting new or existing technologies for use in law enforcement activities.

These host agencies receive funding through a cooperative agreement or interagency agreement from OJP to staff and operate the NLECTC sites. The funding mechanism is determined by the nature of the entity receiving the funds. Private organizations and non-federal agencies are funded through cooperative agreements, while federal agencies are funded through interagency agreements.4 With the exception of the RULETC site, the centers are co-located with their respective host organization.5

The objective of this audit was to ensure that the centers are using NIJ funds awarded through cooperative agreements and interagency agreements in accordance with the award requirements and other applicable regulations. To achieve the objective, we tested the NLECTC program’s accounting records at six of the eight NLECTC sites visited to determine whether reimbursements claimed for award-related costs were allowable, supported, and in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, guidelines, and terms and conditions of the awards. We selected only those sites in which NLECTC staff provided direct assistance to the law enforcement community.6


The Homeland Security Act of 2002 defines the purpose of the NLECTC program in Section 235, National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Centers, which states that “the purpose of the centers shall be to: (1) support research and development of law enforcement technology; (2) support the transfer and implementation of technology; (3) assist in the development and dissemination of guidelines and technological standards; and (4) provide technology assistance, information, and support for law enforcement, corrections, and criminal justice purposes.”7

To accomplish this mission, the NIJ established the following five goals for NLECTC:

The following is a brief discussion of the activities performed by NLECTC program operations. For the most part, these activities include technical assistance, testing and evaluation, and commercialization.

Testing and Evaluation. Through NIJ, OLES publishes minimum performance standards for equipment used by law enforcement and corrections agencies, such as patrol vehicles and bullet-resistant body armor. OLES oversees the development of such standards based on research it conducts.

NLECTC-National oversees the testing of law enforcement equipment by private laboratories. These laboratories test equipment provided voluntarily by manufacturers on either a comparative basis or on a pass or fail basis. For example, the Michigan State Police, in coordination with NLECTC, conducts an annual evaluation of vehicles produced by automobile manufacturers for use as patrol cars. Evaluation factors include a comparative analysis of acceleration, top speed attained, braking, and handling under simulated pursuit conditions, as well as ergonomics and ease of equipment installation. In the case of pass or fail analysis, equipment such as bullet-resistant body armor is tested to see if it meets minimum performance standards.

The NIJ recently directed the OLES to conduct an in-depth analysis of Zylon®-based body armor. The study was requested by the U.S. Attorney General in the wake of the wounding of a police officer in the line of duty after his body armor failed to stop a bullet fired during a drug-related arrest. In addition to bullet-resistant body armor studies, OLES also conducts research and develops standards for stab‑resistant body armor, semi-automatic pistols, walk-through metal detectors, and metallic handcuffs.

Technology Assistance. The NIJ identifies technology assistance as a core activity of the NLECTC program. On average, NLECTC receives about 500 requests for general assistance every month, the majority of which involve the dissemination of information and publications such as the annual analysis of patrol vehicles mentioned above.

In addition to the dissemination of information, the centers also provide “hands-on” assistance through what NLECTC terms “scientific and engineering advice and support.” This often involves lending expertise in assisting local law enforcement with solving or prosecuting open criminal cases. For example, on March 18, 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement personnel in Las Vegas, Nevada, arrested an individual for a string of shootings and one death in the Columbus, Ohio, area. NLECTC-Southeast assisted in the arrest and prosecution of the sniper by deploying a state-of-the-art gunshot location system.

In another case, NLECTC-Northeast provided technical assistance in the form of audio analysis to a local police department in Ohio to assist in entering a murder suspect’s confession into evidence. The defendant’s attorney had attempted to suppress the taped confession based on the fact that the reading of the defendant’s rights was not audible on the tape. However, NLECTC-Northeast, through audio analysis, was able to confirm that the defendant had been read his rights, and the taped confession was allowed into evidence.

In a third case, NLECTC-West assisted local law enforcement in the apprehension of two suspects in the kidnap and rape of a college student. In this case, a security video camera had captured the suspects’ license plate when they attempted to make an ATM withdrawal from the victim’s account. The image of the license plate was not initially readable, but center staff members were able to extract six of the characters through video enhancing technology, which led to the suspects’ arrest.

Technology assistance may also take the form of hands-on training, such as mock prison riots conducted annually in the former West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville. The mock prison riots are hosted by the NIJ in coordination with NLECTC’s Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization (OLETC) and the NLECTC-National. The purpose of the annual event is to showcase emerging corrections and law enforcement technologies and to give corrections officers and tactical team members an opportunity to use and evaluate emerging technologies in riot-training scenarios. According to NLECTC, corrections officials from state, local, and federal institutions, as well as officials from other countries, have attended the event.

Commercialization. According to the NIJ, OLETC is responsible for bringing the research community and private industry together to put affordable technologies into the hands of public safety officials. Toward that end, OLETC has a dedicated staff of law enforcement and corrections professionals, product managers, engineers, and market research specialists who identify new product concepts and help get them manufactured and distributed. Examples of products introduced to the law enforcement community through the OLETC’s efforts include: (1) Roadspike, a retractable barrier strip used to stop fleeing vehicles; (2) EyeCheck, a non-invasive drug detection device; (3) Gimble Glove, which provides puncture-resistant protection for public officers; and (4) Tiger Vision, a handheld infrared night vision system.

  1. See Appendix III for more information on each NLECTC location.

  2. Cooperative agreements are similar to grants in that they are fairly uniform and contain the same reporting requirements and special conditions as grants. Interagency agreements are closer to contracts in structure and may differ from one to the next in reporting requirements and other conditions, depending on the agency and the nature of the work performed.

  3. The RULETC operation is located in Hazard, KY, approximately 100 miles from its host organization, the Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY.

  4. We reviewed financial activity at the following NLECTC sites: NLECTC-Northeast in Rome, NY; NLECTC-Northwest in Anchorage, AK; NLECTC-Rocky Mountain in Denver, CO; NLECTC-Southeast in North Charleston, SC; NLECTC-West in El Segundo, CA; and RULETC in Hazard, KY, and Richmond, KY.

  5. Pub. L. No. 107-296 (2002).

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