Positive SPIN on Liaisons
AFTER ARRESTING A THIEF for using a counterfeit key and combination code to steal gasoline from various stations in Long Island, New York, a detective suspected that there were probably others using the same tactic. The officer reported the case to the Nassau County Security Police Information Network (SPIN)—an information-sharing tool that uses email to connect law enforcement with the private sector.
The local head of security for Exxon Mobil is a member of SPIN. He went to his boss, the company’s global security director, who confirmed that Exxon had witnessed a rash of unexplained gas thefts in the metro New York and Long Island areas that were presumed to be credit card scams.
After hearing about the counterfeit key and code, Exxon examined its pumps and determined that the keys were used to open a small door in the front of the pump. Thieves then used the code to take the pump offline, steal the gas, and put the pump back online before leaving. The thefts were so seamless that, in most cases, gas station attendants didn’t even realize that the gas had been stolen until they discovered that the tanks were short fuel. The conservative estimate for losses from the scam was more than $100,000. The bleeding only stopped after SPIN authorities tipped off the Long Island Gas Retailers Association and local gas vendors were urged to use extra security until the pumps’ flaws could be addressed.
Without an established network of law enforcement and private security professionals to tie together the theft patterns, it is likely that the pilfering in these New York gas stations would have continued unabated. SPIN’s response to the thefts is a perfect example of the power of public-private partnerships. Creating these types of collaborative networks is vital to security, but it requires promoting the system, creating a network, and encouraging communication among members. One organization that has taken on those challenges is the Nassau County Police Department.
“I think that once police departments see the tremendous benefits of connecting electronically with the private sector, it’ll be just a matter of time before we see SPIN-type networks developing throughout the United States,” says Nassau County Police Commissioner James Lawrence. “Information sharing between the police department, other law enforcement and governmental agencies, and the private sector is part of our strategy to address homeland security, prevent crime, and apprehend criminals, as well as support business continuity and sustainability after a crisis,” Lawrence notes.
Police and private industry security professionals interested in fostering this type of collaboration can learn a great deal from SPIN’s experience. Following are the highlights of how they have carried out this initiative.
Participation in SPIN is voluntary and limited to security professionals and law enforcement personnel in the New York metropolitan area. Those wishing to participate must go through an application process that includes criminal and Department of Motor Vehicles background checks.
The applications are available online and ask the participant to identify his or her organization or business; to detail how many security and nonsecurity personnel are present in the company; and whether the security personnel are armed or unarmed. Once the application is received, a background screen is conducted that involves criminal records and DMV searches. Since SPIN’s inception, more than 500 private industry and civic leaders have become participants.
In addition to the vetted SPIN community, a nonvetted network has recently been established. This allows community organizations such as chambers of commerce and neighborhood watch groups to receive nonsensitive security information. Those groups can then pass on SPIN information to members of their own organizations.
Receiving e-mails from SPIN does not require any special software on the part of the recipient. Access to e-mail and the Internet is the only prerequisite. The police department uses Microsoft Outlook to administer the e-mails, which can be sent to every member of the network or to specific groups, such as banks.
The SPIN administrator, Inspector Mathew Simeone, sets the policies governing which prominent law enforcement cases will be widely distributed. Additionally, he determines what information gets disseminated to members of affected business groups. For example, if police made an interesting or unusual arrest that dealt with the banking industry, the SPIN banking group would be notified.
In addition, any SPIN member in charge of protecting critical infrastructure is sent the Department of Homeland Security’s Daily Open Source Report, which contains news summaries on matters of national importance and messages such as robbery notifications. Major road closings due to accidents or fires, and weather-related alerts are also disseminated daily to all SPIN members.
Creating the Network
Establishing this public-private security partnership took a lot of work. At first, there was a general distrust between members of the law enforcement community and those in the private sector. Lawrence began looking for ways to improve the battered communication lines. The primary challenge was to bring people together and encourage open exchanges of information. A forum of security leaders and law enforcement was convened; it laid the foundation for the network and helped to bridge longstanding communication gaps.
“The SPIN program has not only reached out to local infrastructure and security directors but also to groups and organizations whose members do not reside in Nassau County,” says SPIN coordinator Sergeant William Leahy. “If members of their group are conducting business in Nassau County, they should be made aware of the SPIN program. This allows us to reach beyond our physical border and utilize resources that we would not ordinarily have access to.”
The National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), the American Chemistry Council (ACC), and the Jewelers Security Alliance (JSA) have spoken to their members about SPIN, paving the way for membership growth.
Working with members of the private sector, including the operations manager for Citigroup’s Crisis Management Center, Lawrence determined that the most effective method for communication would be e-mail. With the New York Police Department’s Area Police Private Security Liaison (APPL) program as a model, the Nassau Police Department began developing the framework for SPIN.
Like SPIN, APPL sends out daily emails to various private industry partners. Unlike APPL, however, SPIN is not simply a dissemination tool. Lawrence wanted participants in SPIN to be able to offer suggestions and feedback directly to the police. This two-way communication is vital to the network because, as with the gas thefts, many security issues that happen in the private sector are often not reported to police, but are investigated by businesses internally.
SPIN offers members of the private sector a tool through which peers can share information on trends affecting their sector. Since the network does not require the company to supply SPIN with detailed information, internal or sensitive investigations can remain proprietary.
To ensure that the network does not become clogged with unhelpful information, there is a filtering process. When companies submit information, it is read and filtered by SPIN administrators before it is disseminated. If the administrator thinks the information is important, it will be sent to other members of the network. Recipients cannot send e-mail directly to other network members.
SPIN continues to evolve and has become an important aspect of Nassau County’s disaster response and recovery preparations. For instance, after Hurricane Katrina, the county’s Security Advisory Council—a group of law enforcement and private sector leaders dedicated to emergency preparedness—met with SPIN leadership to identify opportunities for partnership.
These efforts have increased SPIN’s visibility and raised awareness of its efforts. As a result, SPIN and the council are working together to improve disaster response efforts in both the private and public sectors.
SPIN has also garnered attention from other areas in New York, and representative Peter King (R-NY), who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, has been briefed on the program. Although it is still too early to know whether SPIN will become a statewide or even nationwide effort, the interest by King and others is encouraging. The collaboration is being taken seriously enough to be uploaded on the Department of Homeland Security’s Lessons Learned Information Sharing Web site.
Oksana Farber is the human resources director and corporate security director for Goldman Associates of New York, Inc. She is a member of ASIS International and serves on the Law Enforcement Liaison Council.