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Technology-driven transparency is key to more productive policing

Evidence collection should be both swift and accurate, but for too long those goals have been mutually exclusive


Gerald Whitman.

Denver Police Department Image

By Gerald Whitman, Denver Chief of Police (Retired)

The first minutes at a crime scene are the most important in the fact finding and investigative process. Collecting “just the facts” is not enough, police must rapidly collect witnesses’ personal observations and perceptions of an incident to gain a better understanding of what really happened. Once a report is complete, there is a high level of expectation that all available information was accurately and completely documented. However, with the tense environment of many of these incidents along with the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, this is not always the case.

New technology is being adopted every year to increase transparency and better equip police officers to deal with incident or crime scene investigations and reporting. Just look at body-worn video cameras (BWC), which, only a few years ago, were considered a luxury by some, and an intrusion of officer privacy by others. Now the technology is largely viewed as beneficial to both police and public and we are beginning to see widespread adoption across the U.S. and beyond.

While BWC are a great example, there are many more integral technological innovations that are gaining ground. For example, other technologies like mobile data collection and retrieval platforms are on the forefront of revolutionizing how scene investigations and reporting is conducted.

Evidence collection should be both swift and accurate, but for too long those goals have been mutually exclusive. The process for most law enforcement agencies involves substantial amounts of time spent on the trivial aspects of the job, such as rummaging through binders for the appropriate forms, switching between documenting devices, and driving from HQ-to-scene and back again to upload information. All together the whole process seems archaic when you stop and think about how we would do a comparative process in our personal lives—with instant sharing and messaging through our mobile devices now ubiquitous.

With all local agencies on the same page for each investigation, it reaffirms officer testimony in court (and during internal personnel investigations resulting from a police action), and ensures all data is more accurate, complete and credible.

Sharing information between all agencies within jurisdictional boundaries ensures that no one specific person or agency is put in a “sticky situation” where their testimony, or the data they collected at the scene and during the investigation, is called into question. This not only protects officers, but enables all of public safety to work together to better serve the public we’re sworn to protect. Plus, arming the front-line officers with the ability to manage information in a modern and effective way makes them “on scene investigators”, not just report takers.

Innovative technologies are going to be the lynchpin to driving increased productivity across public safety. With this technological sea change also comes with it a new level of transparency, where operations and investigative data are available to law enforcement executives, criminal justice representatives, political leaders, and citizens or the media (as governed by local laws). The public’s expectation for law enforcement to “get it right” is justifiably high, and tools like these are the keys to do just this.

About the Author
Gerald Whitman has 40+ years’ of experience in law enforcement, most recently serving as Chief for the Denver Police Department from 2000 to 2012, and then Captain of the city’s SWAT/K-9 Bureau until July of 2015. His areas of expertise include Organizational Management and Change, Strategic Planning, Use of Force, Accountability and Internal Investigations, Transparency, Community Engagement, Recruitment, Training and Organizational Assessment.