The Wolfhound cell-phone detector from Berkeley Varitronics Systems

The Wolfhound cell-phone detector from Berekeley Varitronics Systems

The Wolfhound cell-phone detector has helped reduce crime coming from prisons, thanks to its efficient and cost-effective ability to help correctional officials detect illegal cell phones.

The problem of contraband cell phones in correctional facilities is a huge one and difficult to manage. Prisoners with illegal cell phones have used them to arrange the murder of witnesses and public safety officers, traffic in drugs, and manage criminal enterprises, according to a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) report. In May 2010, the NTIA issued a public notice for comments on how to solve the problem of contraband cell phones in correctional facilities.

Test-equipment designer and manufacturer Berkeley Varitronics Systems (BVS; Metuchen, NJ) responded to the request with a synopsis of proposed solutions. BVS highlighted their Wolfhound family of detectors as one compelling solution. Among the solutions, BVS described the implementation barriers they face:

  1. Jamming is illegal, according to the FCC, because it disrupts legitimate communications. Jamming also eliminates mobile-phone forensic evidence, the science of recovering digital evidence from within a mobile phone. BVS has partnered with Teel Technologies, experts in mobile-phone forensics of confiscated cell phones, to gather information such as initiated threats on witnesses, drug information, and gang-related activities, which are essential to prosecuting inmates conducting crimes from within their cells. As mobile phones continue to advance, these advanced forensics software packages are essential in gathering this critical evidence.
  2. Network sensors, or installing an embedded network, can cost tens of thousands of dollars that cash-strapped correctional facilities can ill afford.
  3. Canines trained for detection can cost up to $10,000 each, plus care.

According to Scott Schober, president and chief executive officer of BVS, “The ‘Seek and Detect method’ involves the use of a wireless, handheld device with a signal sensor like our Wolfhound unit. The Wolfhound can monitor and pinpoint unauthorized cell phones much more quickly and cost-effectively than other proposed solutions.”

Among the Wolfhound family of BVS products that can be used in the Seek and Detect method, the Bloodhound sensor unit is a multi-band receiver controlled by an on-board processor that sequentially scans up-link channels for GSM, CDMA, WCDMA, and PCS cell-phone activity. The Bloodhound systematically covers all the bands of specific frequency allocated to cell-phone signals, including:

  • GSM: 890-915 MHz
  • CDMA: 824-849 MHz
  • WCDMA: 1920-1980 MHz
  • PCS: 1850-1910 MHz

In mid-March 2010, officials from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Facilities detected and located five smuggled cell phones using the BVS Wolfhound device during a two-hour sweep of the cell blocks.

“The creativity of the prisoners is unbelieveable,” said Schober. “One of the hidden phones was in a hollowed-out brick covered by a capstone in a low wall that separates bunk areas in a dormitory. The second was inside an electrical box that had been covered with a solid utility plate that was held in place with security screws.”

Prison officials at Bangkwang Prison in Thailand use the Wolfhound to detect illegal cell phones

Prison officials at Bangkwang Prison in Thailand use the Wolfhound to detect illegal cell phones

In August, officials in a high-security prison in Thailand used the Wolfhound to locate ten contraband cell phones in less than thirty minutes through seven layers of perimeter security. “Safeguarding this maximum-security prison is considered especially critical to Thai correction officials due to the nature of the population ranging from convicted murders to major narcotics dealers,” noted Sandeep Natekar, a BVS International Sales Manager, who led the search of the prison. “Our Wolfhound device was able to pick up the cell phones’ radio frequency (RF) energy through thick concrete walls. Even convicts on death row possessed some of the illegal phones.”

“The complete Wolfhound unit costs $1,800, says Schober, “which is far less than canines or an extensive network of sensors. The device can also be used by government agencies or organizations, schools, hospitals, and airlines that want to enforce a ‘no wireless policy’.”

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