How to implement data-sharing strategies
The true power of data sharing lies in relationships – here’s how to build them
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Police1’s digital edition, “Empowering law enforcement through data sharing.” Click here to download this free publication.
Navigating jurisdictional boundaries in the fight against crime presents significant challenges for law enforcement. As criminals exploit jurisdictional differences to their advantage, it becomes crucial for law enforcement to overcome these barriers and collaborate effectively. One powerful tool in their arsenal is the strategic implementation of data sharing.
Data sharing is simply the process of making the same data resources available to multiple applications or organizations. Effective data-sharing programs provide a comprehensive and holistic view of criminal activities that transcend the confines of individual jurisdictions. Successful data sharing goes beyond data input and extraction. Numbers alone will not cut it anymore. Remember that while numbers provide valuable insights, they should be complemented with qualitative information such as police reports and interviews from front-line staff.
The true power of data sharing lies in relationships.
This article will cover three relationship principles to maximize your agency’s data-sharing plan.
Principle 1: Build relationships with other agencies
It is impossible to do police work by yourself, even if you have the correct data. Several years ago, I taught a class about the future of crime and how criminals were shifting their attitudes from small and local to big and global, highlighting the need for law enforcement to adapt. Criminals do not care about jurisdiction. If they commit a criminal act in your city, chances are they committed a similar act in a neighboring city.
The best way to fight cross-jurisdictional crimes is to build relationships with other agencies. Many states are highly restricted when it comes to cross-jurisdictional investigations. In those states, agencies may need to alter their mutual aid agreements to allow the free flow of data, or if allowed, participate in cross-jurisdictional task forces.
For detectives, if you have cases that cross jurisdictions, reach out to that agency and work together to solve that crime. Working together will not only close more cases but will enhance the likelihood of successful prosecution. Similarly, when identifying crime trends, agencies should proactively engage neighboring agencies to determine if similar trends exist.
When I was a newer detective, I often paired up with a newer detective in a neighboring city. Most of our suspects crossed jurisdictions anyways. In those cases, we would work together to solve our cases. Instead of solving one or two cases where the suspect pleaded to little jail time, we link our cases together, so the prosecutor had more cases to work with. That increased the likelihood of prosecution and drastically increased our sentences.
For agencies dealing with multi-jurisdictional crime trends, create a temporary, part-time task force to address that specific trend. The mini-task force doesn’t have to be formal or something super complicated. The goal is to assign detectives from multiple agencies to fight for a common goal.
Principle 2: Identify where the data is
Every agency has a unique collection of data. What is important to collect for one agency may not be important for another, until it becomes important. Priorities shift over time, and what may seem inconsequential to us at one point can hold significance in the future. After building a relationship with a neighboring agency, you will be able to make a simple phone call to see if that agency has the information you need to complete your mission.
Spend the time building relationships with other agencies. The more cases you solve together, the easier it becomes to understand what information that agency can provide.
The Federal Government also wants your agency to start sharing information with each other. In 2021, the Department of Justice awarded more than $12 million to support data sharing. General Solomon urged agencies to start to share information: “Up-to-date statistical data and the efficient collection and sharing of information across agencies also allow slaw enforcement, corrections, and other justice system professionals to accelerate investigations and communicate with stakeholders, ultimately reducing crime and keeping our communities safe.”
Principle 3: Give credit, always
Once you have built a good relationship, the last thing you want to do is destroy it. And the quickest way to frustrate partnering agencies is by not giving proper credit to those who helped.
In May 2023, federal, county and local authorities made more than two dozen arrests in a three-part multi-jurisdictional crime investigation. The primary investigating agency gave credit to everyone, all 15 agencies, in a joint press release. Representatives of each agency stood behind the attorney U.S. attorney during the press release, which shows the public that we are all working together for a common cause.
Giving credit, however, should not be limited to press releases. Supervisors can send simple emails expressing gratitude to the support agencies or they can write a formal recognition memo through the chain. Small acts of gratitude go a long way with front-line staff and help to build morale − something we all need right now.
The Goldilocks approach to data sharing
The problem of multijurisdictional information sharing is not the volume of information collected – officers complete citations use e-citation machines, upload data from body-worn cameras, write police reports in software-based report management systems (RMS) and complete online booking entries – the problem is finding the right information, and finding it quickly.
Agencies should use what I call the Goldilocks standard of data analytics. Too much information can lead to confusion, too little information can lead to jumping to conclusions, but finding just the right amount of information will lead to clarity.
Follow this simple approach before sharing data:
1. Collect accurate information
The first step toward sharing data is collecting accurate information. Remember, it is not the volume of data you collect that counts, it is the accuracy of that data. When numbers are accidentally transposed, colors are missing, or personal identifying information is not recorded correctly, data analysis can snowball out of control. Before sharing information, make sure it is correct.
2. Pick the correct software
Picking the correct software for your agency is as important as collecting the right information. Your data is only as good as those systems (people or software) used to interpret them. Find software that:
- Is approved by your state’s criminal justice commission as you will be transmitting sensitive data;
- Is secured from unauthorized users;
- Is connected as a node – a central or connecting point of information for several agencies;
- Is capable of being cloud- or remote-based.
Software should also be able to:
- Perform partial searches on people, places and numbers;
- Capture relevant data and make it available in a timely manner;
- Identify crime trends and associations between possible suspects;
- Capable of collecting data from difference sources.
Data-sharing software should allow each agency to keep and control its own information and, at the same time, make it available for other agencies to search and retrieve. Agencies should be able to decide what information is shared, what is restricted and what is redacted.
Data sharing in action
In 2018, I investigated a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme. My agency did not have any information I needed outside of the victim information.
I knew the main suspect lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, but worked in Tempe and Phoenix. He committed felony crimes in Arizona in Mesa, Chandler and Scottsdale, as well as Las Vegas, Nevada, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a handful in California and Hawaii. I needed to find information about two suspects and three victims from 12 different jurisdictions.
My agency participates in data sharing with other agencies, which made solving this case significantly easier and a lot faster.
During my interagency search, I discovered Chandler and Scottsdale Police Departments had open investigations on my suspect. Using data-sharing software, I was able to tie both suspects with all three victims within minutes. This was the key needed to solve this case.
Without data-sharing software, it would have taken months of subpoenaing banks and businesses, and weeks of waiting for interagency responses just to make this link.
To effectively combat crime, law enforcement agencies must shift their mindset from focusing solely on their city’s crime rate to prioritizing regional crime reduction. We are all in this work together. By building collaborative relationships, sharing data, and giving proper credit, agencies can maximize the impact of their data-sharing strategies. Let us unite in this endeavor, leveraging the power of data sharing to enhance investigations and foster safer communities.