6 action items that should be part of every police department's technology strategy
Staying on top of advances in police technology may seem overwhelming, so we tapped those in the know to list essential tasks for police leaders
By Police1 Staff
As a police leader, your to-do list increases every day. Along with prioritizing the health and safety of your officers and addressing crime rates and community concerns, staying on top of advances in police technology can seem overwhelming. That's why we tapped those in the know – both police leaders and technology SMEs – to break down the most pressing police technology concerns into the following six action items. Once you've finished adding these to your to-do list, check out our companion article on some of the biggest technology challenges facing police leaders.
1. Evaluate cyber vulnerabilities
Police leaders need to evaluate their agency’s cyber vulnerabilities. In 2021, multiple agencies fell victim to hacking attacks, which led to the loss and public distribution of sensitive data, including investigative and personnel files.
— Brendan Hooke is a captain with the Fairfax County (Virginia) Police Department and a commander in the department's Information Technology Bureau.
WATCH: Police1's on-demand webinar on the growing threat of ransomware attacks on public safety agencies
2. Use technology to increase situational awareness
One of the most important actions is using technology to increase situational awareness. Finding a solution that helps their team make better-informed decisions is critical, especially in high-pressure situations. Law enforcement officers need intel to enable the best outcome and improve officer safety. In many cases, they may only have seconds to assess the situation and choose the best course of action. They don’t have time to wait or search for mission-critical information.
Technology can have a big impact on situational awareness and give officers the tools to improve outcomes. Police leaders should consider a range of technologies such as higher resolution body-worn cameras, in-car cameras and street cameras for visibility, and artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that can assess risk and mine data records to recommend better courses of action.
Most importantly, police leaders need to leverage mobile technologies to put this data in officers' hands where and when it is needed most. Public safety professionals require more real-time intelligence access and reporting capabilities while on foot or in the field and can’t be tied to their vehicles or office desk. We are seeing a trend toward replacing laptops with rugged tablets that can be used anywhere and in any condition. We are also seeing an increased interest in handheld computers that provide mission-critical data along and discreet communications.
— Michael Sparks is the director of government sales for Zebra Technologies and has over 25 years of experience selling and delivering complex technology and software solutions.
READ: How law enforcement is preparing for a tech-savvy generation of officers
3. Implement a digital evidence management system (DEMS)
The amount of digital evidence encountered by officers is increasing exponentially each year. Agencies not using a digital evidence management system (DEMS) to manage their digital evidence should make adopting a DEMS solution a priority.
Between 2013 and 2019, the amount of digital evidence collected by officers at my police department increased by over 90%. Many agencies are seeing a sharp uptick in the digital evidence being collected by officers. CCTV video, crime scene photos, recorded interviews and citizen-shared evidence are frequently being encountered by officers at nearly every call for service.
It’s simply not good enough to co-mingle digital evidence in folders alongside non-evidentiary documents, city marketing materials and other files. Handling digital evidence in this way puts your evidence at risk of being inadvertently accessed, moved, or deleted. It’s also difficult to authenticate digital evidence outside a DEMS. Can investigators account for the chain of custody of critical CCTV video or case photos in court? Can your detectives testify the files haven’t been changed since being collected months or years earlier? Can you determine if sensitive evidence has been downloaded and inappropriately shared outside the agency? And by whom?
A DEMS tracks the entire life cycle of digital evidence, providing a defensible chain-of-custody, comprehensive reporting, access control, and compliance with local, state, and federal laws. Combined with training and updated department policy, a DEMS helps ensure your agency’s digital evidence is properly handled, stored, and managed. Make it a priority to audit your department’s digital evidence handling procedures and update them accordingly.
— Steve Paxton has been a police officer for 26 years. Most recently he worked as a detective assigned to the Forensic Investigations Unit at the Everett (Wash.) Police Department.
READ: 16 features to look for in a Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS)
4. Embrace data-informed decision-making
Public safety agencies must be proactive in assessing their role in community interactions that have historically served as the epicenter for police-community tensions.
Citizens are taking an active role in public safety problem-solving, and agencies are rethinking their engagement through three tenets: availability, accessibility and authenticity. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to addressing technology needs, but it is clear that leading agencies will invest in their use of data in order to develop community trust and better connect first responders in the field.
Signaling broad demand for data-informed decision making, the Justice Department announced in late January 2022 a new initiative designed to equip states with more criminal justice data. The DOJ noted that the new initiative is being introduced to help guide decisions on budgeting and policies as agencies encounter obstacles in the form of time constraints, outdated technology and a lack of federal mandate.
This initiative is a clear indicator that responsibilities once considered basic functions of public safety are now being re-examined. Agencies will continue to focus on using data to address the challenges that the 21st century brings.
By taking the opportunity to audit the technology needs of their agency and community, police leaders can work toward aligning with federal directives and embracing more data-informed decision-making.
— Matthew Polega is head of communications and public policy for Mark43.
READ: Why data-informed community engagement is crime prevention and policing reimagined
5. Prioritize officer mobility
After spending more than 20 years as a law enforcement officer, I believe it is most critical for police leaders to prioritize officer mobility to support efficiency, situational awareness and effectiveness when planning their technology roadmap.
While many agencies already have laptops docked in vehicles to digitize reporting workflows, these setups leave officers anchored to their cars, which isn’t ideal from an efficiency standpoint. Providing officers with mobile handheld devices and tablets that they can carry on missions and regular patrols will streamline operations and enable them to collect more data in real-time. For instance, leveraging a mobile device with a built-in barcode reader means an officer no longer has to walk back and forth to their car to scan a driver’s license during a traffic stop. Likewise, pairing a mobile device with dictation software lets officers complete reports from anywhere without being heads down typing in their cars. The flexibility afforded by mobile devices gives officers the freedom to accomplish more outside the car and have a greater awareness of their surroundings as situations unfold.
As staffing shortages challenge many departments with fulfilling their responsibilities with fewer resources, it becomes more important than ever to create opportunities for efficiency. Mobile solutions deliver tremendous ROI not only from a productivity perspective but also in their ability to expand a department’s data capabilities. As law enforcement agencies move toward more digitized operations, data-driven decision-making will be top of mind, making it all the more important for agencies to collect and store more data in real-time through mobile solutions.
— Marcus Claycomb is a business development manager at Panasonic.
DOWNLOAD: How to buy mobile computers eBook
6. Break down information silos
Police leaders should focus on technology that allows for breaking down information silos and sharing critical incident information across all stakeholders. Technologies that enable information sharing can provide police and other emergency personnel insight into what situation they will be walking into. For example, by deploying a safety profile system, public safety can obtain information into a specific caller’s location, emergency contact, medical or mental health history. This kind of information is critical in enhancing situational awareness and officer safety when responding to 9-1-1 calls, while also providing a better informed and expedited response.
— Todd Miller is SVP Strategic Programs at Rave Mobile Safety.
NEXT: The biggest technology challenges facing police leaders