How search-based investigative intel can aid police operations

Connecting disparate systems helps agencies gain efficiencies, leverage data


By John Randles

We are so far into the digital transformation of our daily lives that we don’t even notice the magic of search anymore. When was the last time you heard someone remark how fast Google is or how relevant the first page of results returned was? Or how quickly your phone's apps can find you a driver, take-out, or the right restaurant? Search is now part of everyday life – always available, always reliable and always fast.

Unfortunately, this is not the experience when law enforcement officers go to work. The seamless, fast, accessible experience of our home life seems eons ahead of what we experience when logging into our multiple law enforcement systems. When everything is disconnected, swiveling from one system to the next or to another machine is the norm. The integration glue is often the Post-it note, where we attempt to perform linking and matching gymnastics, scratching our suspecting linking data down on paper and retyping into multiple systems.

Beyond the ability to integrate multiple systems, there a number of reasons why search is now so important in 2021.
Beyond the ability to integrate multiple systems, there a number of reasons why search is now so important in 2021. (Photo/Getty Images)

Beyond the ability to integrate multiple systems, there a number of reasons why search is now so important in 2021.

DATA DEMOCRATIZATION

The old saying “knowledge is power” has never been more relevant. In the drive to improve how law enforcement officers serve their communities, unlocking institutional knowledge is essential.

Getting a complete search capability onto a secure mobile device will help any number of day-to-day policing interactions. Freeing data from being the sole preserve of the specialist analyst gives beat cops increased insight into the people they interact with on a daily basis, improving the quality of interactions for all concerned.

SAFETY

Search can play a large role in law enforcement staff safety. This is accomplished by giving the officer a complete situational read before engaging with a citizen, including highlighting the individual’s previously unknown relationship or suspected alliances.

The ability to have a full situational picture may well prompt a different course of action – a call for backup, a different approach, a change of tactics and language. How many times have people said, in hindsight, that the information was there, we just didn’t join the dots in time?

INVESTIGATIVE EFFICIENCY

In our current fiscal environment, efficiency needs to be looked at in all areas of policing, and none more so than investigative processes.

Disconnected, uncoordinated data creates massive inefficiencies and wastes resources. Having an effective search service across all possible sources is essential. Imagine the capabilities gained by connecting 911 calls, complaints, arrests, CAD and RMS data, parole and public records, video, images and open-source data.

Without an efficient search service, the collection process can be onerous and never-ending. If your search can use artificial intelligence tools like entity resolution and natural language processing to highlight non-obvious relationships, then you can deliver massive operational efficiencies.

EXPLOITING NEW DATA OPPORTUNITIES

In almost every industry, the mantras of “we are a data-driven organization” and “data is an untapped asset for our organization” are ubiquitous. Law enforcement is no exception. And there are unique opportunities to exploit data in law enforcement.

In the past, classified data was everything. Now more organizations are looking to exploit open sources such as the internet, social media and the dark web. How do you link, integrate and exploit these valuable sources for use in day-to-day policing work? Search is how these sources become part of the day-to-day workflow.

The non-search-based technologies of the past make this exploitation just too hard and expensive to contemplate. Any benefit was impossible because the cost of onboarding and linking were prohibitively expensive. Not with search!

STAFF TRAINING & RETENTION

The next generation of law enforcement officers has grown up with search. All the data they want in their lives is easily and quickly available on apps, tablets and TVs. They have a very high expectation of how IT works. And when they arrive to work in law enforcement, they do not expect the sometimes-archaic way of accessing data.

A common search capability across all data is essential to making onboarding, training and retention run smoothly for younger employees. Their expectation levels for IT systems usability and performance are just different from older generations. They have no patience for substandard user experiences and are not afraid to express these opinions.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Another catchphrase across industries is digital transformation. A widely held definition of digital transformation is “the adoption of digital technology to transform services or businesses, through replacing non-digital or manual processes with digital processes or replacing older digital technology with newer digital technology.” Sounds good! And the key to digital transformation in law enforcement is getting the right information to the right person at the right time in a controlled way.

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Law enforcement must maintain impeccable standards of security, access control, audit and justification on data access. Any digital transformation initiative without a search strategy is destined for failure given the importance of data to such transformations and the importance of compliance and control in this domain.

Confidence within most organizations will continue to grow when data is secured at the right level with strong audit and search justification requirements. But digital transformation within law enforcement is different. It requires a high level of understanding of the control and compliance requirements. Without that, confidence can evaporate quickly, and staff will revert to what they know even if it is suboptimal.

WHY NOW FOR SEARCH?

With the plethora of demands for spending within law enforcement across all sorts of technologies, and cost-cutting agendas, why is now the time to think about search? From an IT perspective, I believe search makes the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.

It is not the long-running, Holy Grail project of a new central database, data warehouse or a five-year program. Search respects the data you have today, wherever and however it is stored and managed, in whatever format. It allows you to use all sources quickly and answer the following: What do I have today? Where is it? Is it useful to the frontline? How do I access it quickly?

Search does not need to be a long, drawn-out process to get search operational. In a recent project, my company worked with a large law enforcement agency where we loaded, linked, secured and made available simple search and complex link-analysis search across 12 data sources and 97 million records in four weeks.

With no common person records database or person number, we were able to build a virtual person identifier across all 12 sources. This intelligence makes search really sing in a law enforcement environment. We have to assume dirty, unrelated data, with no common keys and person IDs. It’s a fact of life in organizations that have grown organically over such a long time.

CONCLUSION

Search can be made available to the most advanced and most novice data consumers, all within the constraints of audit and compliance laws and regulations pertaining to data. Classified, open and commercial sources come together to make today’s law enforcement offices more data-aware and better equipped than ever before. By using search, law enforcement can greatly enhance the possibilities for keeping people, assets and networks safe.


About the author

John Randles is CEO of Siren, an Irish software company whose product is the Siren Investigative Intelligence Platform. Siren is used to enable rapid and effective investigations across large data sets. 

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