The Schengen Agreement, which eliminates
passport controls between EU member states,
requires strengthening of controls for non-EU
citizens. In the Netherlands, the police authority
responsible for these controls faced the task of
re-deploying some 400 officers and implementing
a program called Mobile Supervision of
Foreigners. In managing this difficult task, the
Royal Marechaussee Police found Mobitex to be "a
gift from heaven".
A gift from heaven
As a result of developments in international politics, the activities of the Royal Marechaussee this past year have changed dramatically. The implementation of the Schengen Agreement and the added responsibility for Mobile Supervision of Foreigners have resulted in the need to access, through wireless data communications, remote databases from mobile locations. R J Bongers, head of the Organization and Supplies Department of the Royal Marechaussee explains.
"The Schengen Agreement stipulates that controls along the borders of nine of the twelve EU countries will be abolished. As a result, approximately 400 personnel active in these areas will need to be redeployed," relates Bongers.
However, the decision has also been taken to strengthen controls along the other borders. This will result in the creation of 250 new jobs at Schiphol airport. In addition to the Royal Marechaussee's increased responsibility with regard to the Mobile Supervision of Foreigners, they have also taken on a number of duties formerly carried out by the State Police.
"In managing all these responsibilities, the ability to consult the 'wanted persons' databases from patrolling vehicles is of primary importance. Wireless data communication is proving to be indispensable," says Bongers.
"Previously the controls were carried out manually," he recalls. "Today that would not work. Since the introduction of the Schengen Agreement, the amount of data and the frequency with which it changes have increased significantly. Access to accurate, up-to-date information is essential."
When carrying out these controls, the Royal Marechaussee consult a number of databases containing information relating to unpaid fines, escaped prisoners, and various other undesirable foreigners. To conduct these investigations the Royal Marechaussee is heavily reliant on data communications. At every gate where passengers from outside the Agreement area arrive at Schiphol, a terminal for passport enquires should be made available. To install a network encompassing several kilometers is an expensive and labor-intensive solution, especially since the gates are only in use a few times a day.
"At the time we identified the need for a strong wireless data solution, RAM Mobile Data almost literally fell into our lap," explained Bongers, only to add : "A gift from heaven!" Employees of the Royal Marechaussee at Schiphol now have access to Digital notebooks with a Radio modem. The notebooks run software especially adapted by Digital for accessing various databases, including the Schengen Information System, through the RAM wireless data network.
The fact that the system is not fully operational yet is not, according to Bongers, caused by the technology employed, "No definitely not. The fact that we do not yet have access to all the required information is caused by the other Schengen partners' inability to deliver their information to us through the main system in France." This has not prevented the Royal Marechausse from using the RAM Mobile Data network for accessing Dutch databases.
Using notebooks and radio modems makes it possible to operate close to the exits of the ferries. This considerably shortens the waiting time for passengers. This solution also easily accommodates peak demands, in the summer months more notebooks will be used than in the quieter winter periods.
In addition to these relatively simple tasks, the Royal Marechaussee also have to deal with extreme situations. "In the most extreme case our officers climb aboard ships using a rope ladder," explains Bongers. "In those situations it is of course impossible to use extension cords. We briefly considered using mobile phones, but ruled them out due to security requirements." Once again notebook PCs with radio modems proved best for the task.
"Mobile Supervision of Foreigners is necessary, but is impossible without the RAM Mobile Data network," declares Bongers. He is referring not only to the technical issues, but also to the important personal safety benefits for the officers. It is now possible to inquire about a car registration number and determine whether it is stolen, or whether its driver is a known and dangerous criminal. On the basis of this information, the officer might decide not to apprehend the vehicle on a busy stretch of road, but instead to wait for an opportunity to do so with minimal risk for bystanders and officers.
The goal is to completely conduct controls from the officer's vehicle using the RAM network. According to Bongers, this works so well that it will almost certainly become a standard for accessing criminal records in general. This will clear the way for other investigative agencies such as local and regional police forces to access criminal data wirelessly. "If an organization such as the Royal Marechaussee is willing to commit to RAM and its wireless network, others are likely to follow our example," according to Bongers.
The armed forces
The Schengen Agreement
The Schengen Agreement, signed on June 14, 1985, is intended to eliminate all border checks on persons or goods moving between the Member States of the European Union. The Schengen Agreement and the subsequent Schengen Convention on its implementation form port of International Law, not European Law. However, only EU Member States can join, and the measures set out in the Agreement correspond to the European Commission's program for completing the internal market within the European Community.
Some EU countries have yet to join the Schengen group or - in the case of Denmark, Ireland and the U.K. - have opted to remain outside it, making the implementation process even more complicated, as compromises have had to be made when defining internal and external borders.
The relaxation of internal controls has heightened the need for controls at external borders. Increased vigilance is required of the police and customs officials responsible for intercepting shipments of narcotics, firearms and other illegal goods, and for applying the Schengen Agreement's provisions on the movement of aliens.