Around the time when I was released from FTO and in my own patrol car, my agency started using LoJack . At first, LoJack sounded like a great idea. The way it works is that if someone’s LoJack-enabled car was stolen, police cars outfitted with LoJack detection would be able to find the stolen car through homing signals.
It’s more technical than that, but basically, the stolen LoJack car emits a signal that police cars with LoJack are able to track when in close proximity, much like the game of “Hot and Cold” works. Latent works in the same concept, but with more accuracy, and with a map, coupled with a directional antenna.
To be honest, I patrolled my district for probably a year, and completely forgot about the LoJack. Then my LoJack sounded off and I found a stolen car. Even though the stolen car had been abandoned, and that it was pretty much just a stolen recovery report with no suspects, I found this to be really cool.
So here comes Latent Wireless , with a similar concept but instead of cars, Latent is developed for any device with WiFi….then again, if a car has WiFi….hey!
Latent could be described as “ Wardriving for Cops ”, but that would be an inaccurate description. Being both a privacy and law enforcement advocate, this was my first concern. For example, Latent works much like the hacking/pentesting Linux distros in being able to sniff packets which raises the privacy violation flag. However, Latent does not analyze content, save it to disk, or make any of this information available to the officer . Latent simply sniffs for targeted devices (WiFi-enabled devices that are a target of a criminal investigation).
Is this worth it?
From experience and many times by department policy, a stolen or lost cell phone is bottom of the list as far as law enforcement is concerned. Maybe it is one level above a stolen bicycle report. I do not say that to minimize the impact to the victim, but that there are so many other crimes that take priority in the grand scheme of police work. Yes, recovery of stolen property is an important endeavor, but all crimes are prioritized to maximize law enforcement effectiveness.
But, there are exceptions! A smartphone (or any WiFi device that Latent can detect) could be instrumental in solving multiple crimes or one very serious crime. Consider that a residential burglary could be solved by finding a WiFi device that was stolen in the burglary. Or a kidnap victim with a phone, or a suspect in a major crime.
Just a stolen phone…
If you ask any cop, they will tell you that it is only a few criminals that commit the majority of crimes. If you had your wallet or purse stolen from your gym locker, most likely the same criminal who stole your stuff from your gym just came from another gym and going to another gym to steal other people’s stuff. The trunk of their car is packed with stolen items and everything that they didn’t want is strewn across the freeway.
Catching a thief prevents a series of future crimes. If a police officer can be told via a computer screen where a stolen smartphone or laptop is on their beat, they could practically not only prevent a slew of more crimes, but possibly solve a dozen or more open cases of burglaries, thefts, and robberies.
Good street cops know this. A good street cop can turn a recovery of a stolen phone into multiple arrests of multiple crimes in multiple jurisdictions. Tools like Latent make it easier to be a good street cop.
Win a Latent!
For Law Enforcement only, win a Latent for your department! Cost to enter: $0. Cost to win: $0.
One entry per agency. Drawing on February 28, 2020.
Winner (the agency) receives 10 Scouts and 10 one-year licenses !
Is it difficult to use?
No tech needed. No work by the officer. Just drive around (of course, patrolling requires waaayyy more skill and talent than just driving around!). Latent works in the background and you’ll be notified when it sniffs a targeted device. It’s like a having an electronic K9 in your car, sniffing for evidence.
Is it difficult to set up?
Install the software and plug in a USB device. That’s it. Seriously.
One of the cool features is the option of getting passive alerts. Passive alerts have been around for a long time as an effective and non-intrusive investigative tool. The ACLU calls ‘silent hits’ a domestic intelligence-gathering tool, but in reality, passive alerts/silent hits are one of the most effective investigative methods for complex crimes.
For example, I have used silent hits on suspects in major cases in international cases to gather intelligence (ie: evidence), identify co-conspirators, and make arrests. Some of the cases resulted in freeing victims of human traffickers and disrupting organized crime groups. The Latent Wireless passive alerts is an effective feature that works in the same manner.
Directional antenna (necessary only to pinpoint the targeted device’s location after being found by Latent).
Ok. I played with Latent’s tools more than necessary, just because I started thinking of all the ways that I could have used in this in my cases to place a device (which implies a person-owner) at a specific place at a specific time. The owner can be the suspect or a victim. Very cool.
Latent can be used to map networks too, which is awesome because you can map the networks in your jurisdiction without having to rely on outdated, inaccurate, and the I-have-no-idea-if-the-Internet-information-is-correct data that you can find online. Personally, the mere ability to have patrol cars driving away that are actively searching for stolen WiFi devices is a no-brainer.
Catch one. Solve some. Prevent many.
If you have ever been a victim of a crime, you certainly want justice. You want your property back. You want the criminal to stand before a court. This is a key aspect of law enforcement. The other aspect of law enforcement is that when one suspect is arrested/charged for one crime, there are most always a string of past crimes not yet connected to the suspect and a string of potential crimes that you know are coming with this one suspect.
Nothing is perfect, and Latent Wireless fits in that as well. In order for Latent to be effective, targeted devices must be entered into Latent’s database, which means it takes additional effort on the part of law enforcement to enter items into yet-another-law-enforcement-database. For me, this is a non-issue since it takes barely seconds to enter a targeted device into a system that can give you real-time information on a targeted device. With some investigations, this can be pivotal in solving major cases.
Another negative, and perhaps the most important is that tools like Latent won’t work if there is not large numbers of buy-in. If only one police agency were to use Latent, then the effectiveness is on the bottom end (to be fair, Latent is being used in way more than one agency). Much like any social media platform, until there is massive buy-in, the benefits are low, but once there is buy-in, the benefits can be awesome.
My recommendation is to push your agency toward Latent Wireless if you are working for an agency. If you are not in law enforcement, this is something that you want your local LE to have. It is inexpensive, can recover targeted devices (both the criminal’s device and victims’ devices).
As far as private use of Latent Wireless…it is really of no use. Seriously. As neat this it is, there isn’t a need for a private person to drive around looking for criminals. This is a police function. But for a law enforcement tool, this is really needed.