The First Responder Network Authority

Talbot County’s (Maryland) first responders received a boost in their wireless communications with the addition of a purpose-built cell site. Photo taken on August 27, 2019.


“So, what’s FirstNet?” You may have heard this on a tradeshow floor. You may have overheard it in the locker room. You may have even asked it yourself. Set to the most simplistic of explanations, the First Responder Network Authority is an organization established by congress that oversees the implementation of the FirstNet communications network built with AT&T. What the FirstNet Authority is not is the provider of the service.  

I connected with Assistant Chief Harry Markley (ret.), and subject matter expert for FirstNet Law Enforcement. “We’re no more a vendor than the FBI is a vendor. We’re actually part of the federal government,” he says.

Harry MarkleyThe First Responder Network AuthorityHarry Markley is the law enforcement liaison for the FirstNet Authority. His experience includes over 31 years as a police officer, retiring from the Phoenix Police Department as chief of the patrol division. He’s been with the FirstNet Authority for about two years and has since produced a newsletter sharing news and information with law enforcement. I spoke with him mid-May.

The FirstNet network has been in operation for two years and, according to Markley, 99% of the U.S. population is covered with 12,000 public safety agencies. That’s breaks down to 1.3 million connections worldwide—a significant milestone for a network so young.

It’s this acceptance that keeps Markley optimistic and parallels the network’s advancement to the Apple iPhone. “The iPhone came out 11, 12 years ago. I remember when you looked at the phone you had about 50 apps on it…and we thought it was the most amazing thing in the world. Now, if you look at the iPhone today and the 100’s of thousands of apps, the capabilities of the camera—those are the leaps to be made.

I just think about where we will be in another 10 years. Just like the iPhone, what this network is going to be able to do and how it’s going to be used are going to be amazing. It’s going to have a significant impact on not just law enforcement but on public safety as a whole.”

AT&T won the FirstNet bid and are partnered together in a 25-year long contract. While the organizations aren’t responsible for the technical side, they’re comprised of teams to oversee various aspects (like confirming reported speeds) to make sure that the build deadlines are being met.

The other side of the First Responder Network Authority organization comprises of education: what FirstNet is, what Firstnet can do, what Firstnet can’t do, and whether or not FirstNet is even the correct choice based on circumstances, location and if the service is right for the agency at the time. With his experience of going from a heavily populated area in Phoenix to the middle of nowhere within Arizona, Markley is realistic and cuts to the point, “It might not be right for everybody. That’s part of my job. Talk to them, find out what their needs are. What their resources are. Where they are located on the planet and if this is the right service for them at this time.”

It starts with coverage. Put simply, without cellular coverage you can’t talk on your phone. Without cellular coverage you can’t use data. But that doesn’t mean that coverage can’t move where you need it. Should there be a need where there isn’t coverage—say, responding to a wildfire in the middle of nowhere—a fleet of deployable units can be sent to the location. You can even use a tethered drone with a ground-based power source to provide a temporary cellular tower.

What about the radio?

Consider the computer in the patrol vehicle. Consider your smartphone. Often cellular coverage for these devices can go where radio coverage hasn’t. “We’re not looking to replace mobile radios,” Markley says. He tells me a story from Arizona, where Phoenix, the fifth largest city in the U.S., is heavily populated – there are extremely rural areas. “Areas where our state police don’t have any radio coverage at all”, he says. Once they hit radio darkness, officers were flying blind with the closest back up an hour or more away. FirstNet built with AT&T were able to provide a solution to allow officers to use their mobile phones to communicate to dispatch through an LTE-LMR integration. One trooper was quoted, “Now I can do police work again.”

Markley goes around the country demonstrating the capabilities of FirstNet, by making a call from Florida to dispatch in Arizona in the midst of IACP 2019 as well as utilizing the new Push to Talk app to connect to California while in Guam.

Can I sign up?

Many officers inquire about 1) whether they qualify and 2) if they can sign up privately. Short answer: yes, if an officer wants to be on the network on their own—they can.

Oftentimes, many people consider public safety as only police, firefighters, and EMTs— but the FirstNet Authority includes so much more. “It’s not always sworn,” he says. “There are task forces that are made up of military and civilian and they do search and rescue for a sheriff department, or they’re a part of a drug task force where they aren’t actually a sworn law enforcement officer but they provide support.” Law enforcement agencies and officers alike can contact AT&T for more information on who qualifies for access on FirstNet.

The network is only in its infancy. “We’re so early on in this process that what we’ll look like even five years from now will be so much different than what it looks like now,” says Markley. “When you look at live streaming video, when you talk about being able to live stream dash cam video, body cam video, video cameras on the end of electronic weapons. The possibilities are endless.”

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By Jonathan Kozlowski |

2021 Law Enforcement State of the Industry Projection Survey

The Officer Media Group is proud to announce, once again, that we are launching our State of the Industry Projection Survey – the only one of its kind in the entire law enforcement community. This year’s projection survey is sponsored by Howard Leight and each person who completes 100% of the questions in the survey will be entered to win one of the sponsored prizes: A set of truly unique ear protection from their Impact Sport Honor Collection. When the survey period has closed, we’ll select, at random, three winners to receive one of the prizes.

The data received in the State of the Industry Projection Survey, when complete, will be compiled into a summary report and made available to all who complete it. It will contain information about what you, the law enforcement community leaders, expect to see from the coming year in the way of growth, challenges, budgets and more. How does the industry expect to be impacted by COVID-19, riots, protests, funding challenges? All data we collect, mine, analyze and share.

It IS a thorough and in-depth survey. We request that you take it when you have the time and access to the data for your agency. If you don’t have definitive answers, we’d request that you not make best guesses but get the correct data. Why? So when we issue the summary report, it’s as accurate as we can make it and not based on the SWAG (surgical wild @$$ guess) some folks put in.

Thank you in advance for your time taken and invested to complete the survey. Thank you to our sponsor, Howard Leight Shooting Sports, for providing us the opportunity to award unique and valuable ear protection.

 To take our State of the Industry Projection Survey CLICK HERE

Qualified Immunity: Myths vs Facts

A public official performing a discretionary function enjoys qualified immunity in a civil action for damages, provided his or her conduct does not violate clearly established federal statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Because there have been several misunderstandings or misstatements about what “qualified immunity” means, the National Sheriffs’ Association provided the following information:


  • Qualified immunity makes officers immune to state or federal criminal charges for a wrongful act.


  • Qualified immunity does not make officers immune to state or federal criminal charges for a wrongful act.
  • Qualified immunity only protects officers from liability for acts that have never been determined to violate constitutional rights.
  • To retroactively punish a peace officer for conduct that he or she had no way of knowing at the time that such conduct would later be found to violate the Constitution would be wrong. 



  • Qualified immunity prevents individuals from recovering damages from law enforcement officers who knowingly violate an individual’s constitutional rights.


  • Qualified immunity only prevents lawsuits in federal court where the constitutional validity of a particular action was not known at the time.  Claimants are free to sue in state court under state law for the same incident, both for negligence as well as intentional torts.



  • Qualified immunity protects law enforcement agencies from unconstitutional policies and practices.


  • Qualified Immunity does not protect law enforcement agencies from unconstitutional practices.
  • Eliminating qualified immunity will only benefit trial lawyers in obtaining substantial fee awards for lawsuits that would have been dismissed under qualified immunity.



  • Eliminating qualified immunity financially affects the officer and will deter him from unconstitutional actions.


  • Eliminating qualified immunity does not financially affect the officer because most judgments are paid by the agency’s insurance company whose premiums are paid with public funds.



  • Eliminating qualified immunity will keep officers from making crucial, split-second, life or death decisions to stop a lethal threat.  Innocent victims and officers will be hurt or killed as a result. Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S. Ct. 305 (2015).
  • Qualified immunity not only protects officers from liability for unknowingly violating constitutional rights, it protects all government actors from liability to allow them to function in uncertain situations where immediate action is needed for the public good. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009).
  • The qualified immunity rule seeks a proper balance between two competing interests. On one hand, damages suits may offer the only realistic avenue for vindication of constitutional guarantees. On the other hand, permitting damages suits against government officials, not just peace officers, can entail substantial social costs, including the risk that fear of personal monetary liability and harassing litigation will unduly inhibit officials in the discharge of their duties. As one means to accommodate these two objectives, judicial precedent holds that government officials are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to discretionary functions performed in their official capacities. The doctrine of qualified immunity gives officials, peace officers or otherwise, breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions. Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017).
  • As to peace officers, qualified immunity applies to jail operations including medical decisions, failure to protect, suicides in jails, and many other situations not involving use of force.  Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S. Ct. 2042 (2015); Berry v. Sherman, 365 F.3d 631(8th Cir. 2004).
  • It is not necessary that the very action in question has previously been held unlawful. That is, an officer might lose qualified immunity even if there is no reported case directly on point. But in the light of pre-existing law, the unlawfulness of the officer’s conduct must be apparent. Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017).
  • Qualified immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. To determine whether a given officer falls into either of those two categories, a court must ask whether it would have been clear to a reasonable officer that the alleged conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. If so, then the defendant officer must have been either incompetent or else a knowing violator of the law, and thus not entitled to qualified immunity. If a reasonable officer might not have known for certain that the conduct was unlawful, then the officer is immune from liability. Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017).
  • Eliminating qualified immunity for cases where the peace officer didn’t know they were violating constitutional rights will open the flood gates for additional litigation and have a substantial negative impact on the budgets of communities that will have to pay for increasing judgments and attorneys’ fees.