The biggest technology challenges facing police leaders

How to chart a roadmap to future-proof your agency's technology needs


By Police1 Staff

While advances in police technology offer greater operational efficiency and improved officer safety, police leaders face many challenges when developing a tech stack that addresses their agency's specific needs.

To help navigate and overcome potential technology roadblocks, we asked Police1 columnists and public safety technology SMEs to outline the most pressing technology challenges for the law enforcement profession along with potential solutions. 

The biggest technology challenge facing police leaders has nothing to do with infrastructure, storage space, or hardware. It has to do with the leader’s mindset.
The biggest technology challenge facing police leaders has nothing to do with infrastructure, storage space, or hardware. It has to do with the leader’s mindset. (Getty Images)

Changing our mindset

The biggest technology challenge facing police leaders has nothing to do with infrastructure, storage space, or hardware. It has to do with the leader’s mindset. As I speak with police leaders from across the nation, almost all have three universal concerns about using the latest technology:

  • Police technology is secure: Police technology is highly secure. Reputable software-as-a-service (SAAS), platform-as-a-service (PAAS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IAAS) companies have designated compliance and IT personnel keeping the services safe from hackers and cyber-attacks. Police leaders are no longer obligated to maintain the agency’s software, hardware, or devices since the police technology companies will do it for them. Police leaders can shift their focus away from administrative tasks like maintenance back to crime-fighting where it belongs.
  • Police technology helps reduce investigation hours: Police technology will reduce investigation hours putting officers and detectives back to work faster. It will also increase the likelihood of a successful prosecution. For example, 3D imaging scanners, cell phone data extractors and portable fingerprint scanners allow officers to process crime scenes quickly. The information gathered from these physical devices can be uploaded directly into Report Management Systems (RMS) and Evidence Management Systems (EMS). Prosecutors can have immediate access allowing for a seamless investigation and prosecution.
  • Police technology is no longer optional: Police leaders nationwide are all concerned about the same thing: lack of personnel, case backlogs, civil claims, employee morale issues and building better relationships with the community. Luckily, there are police technology tools that can help with each. Citizens know these tools exist and expect their agencies to use them to better their community.

Police technology can help in every facet of a police agency. Over the past few years, police technology companies have been pushing for faster, more secure and more reliable tools for law enforcement. These tools exist, but it is up to the police leader to make the change and use them.

— Joshua Lee is an active-duty police sergeant in Arizona and cryptocurrency, money laundering and dark web consultant for banks, financial institutions and accountants throughout Arizona. 

Digital evidence management

Now that law enforcement has begun to collect and analyze digital evidence in almost every investigation, police leaders need to invest in systems to sustain long-term storage, controlled distribution of evidence and integration with record management systems. We need to apply the same retention, security and archiving standards to digital evidence as we do with physical evidence.

— Brendan Hooke is a captain with the Fairfax County (Virginia) Police Department and a commander in the department's Information Technology Bureau. 

Every year sees an exponential increase in the prevalence of technology available to law enforcement to enhance how they serve their communities and conduct criminal investigations. Regardless of the source or purpose, the ever-increasing availability of data presents agencies with both opportunities and obligations. Body-worn cameras, in-car video and other tools can enhance agency transparency but often yield a considerable amount of data that most agencies do not have discretion as to how long they must retain.

Cloud-based storage options were once viewed by many as inappropriate for local government purposes. Increasingly, the cloud has become a more cost-effective option, allowing agencies to leverage both enhanced security features for data storage, and more robust computing capability for complex processes like analytics and digital forensics. Municipalities that allocate budgets for police must recognize that effective solutions cannot be procured at bargain prices, nor can they be put off until “someday.” The issue of digital evidence management is not going away and every year that agencies wait to address the subject, the challenges are exacerbated. 

Devices such as smartphones, tablets, wearable technology, inter-connected household devices and other emergent technologies have already been shown to hold evidence that is critical to solving crime. A murdered woman’s Fitbit log and Facebook activity offered key evidence leading to the arrest of her husband who alleged she had been killed by a home intruder. During a spree of hate crimes in Texas, four defendants used a dating app to lure and brutally victimize at least nine people who were targeted for their sexual orientation.    

Police can leverage innovative solutions to address the challenges associated with digital evidence but must do so in a transparent manner. Safeguarding privacy rights does not have to be at odds with modernizing agencies. Crafting sound policies and thoughtfully engaging the communities they serve can help strike a balance that equitably serves all stakeholders.

— Christian Quinn is a veteran law enforcement leader who recently retired as Commander of the Cyber & Forensic Bureau with the Fairfax County Police Department in Fairfax, Virginia.

cross-agency coordination

Agencies need to have the right technology to improve their efficiency as resources are constrained and more police officers leave the field or retire. We can expect to see agencies more closely scrutinizing their mobility and communications solutions and adopt specialized software applications that digitize and automate traditionally manual processes and improve communications. This can include on-scene resource management, evidence collection, incident reports, citations and more.

Many agencies do not have the right software applications or mobile technology to keep officers in the community or support cross-agency coordination. Emergency response incidents are becoming too frequent and sizeable for solo missions. In today’s resource and staff-constrained environment, there needs to be an emphasis on increasing coordination and freeing officers from manual tasks that limit their time in the field.

— 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. 

Data compliance

Data management and compliance continue to be the biggest technology challenges facing police leaders today. Outdated technology amplifies barriers to better, more informed police response and is just one of the mounting challenges facing law enforcement in 2022. 

Ensuring that agencies are federally compliant regarding data collection is imperative to best serve communities. Databases like the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection program can help police leaders understand best practices to support those communities. However, federal guidance is disrupted by a gap in employee training and outdated technology that prevents agencies from being able to be compliant and capture the right data. 

Both police leaders and the federal government need to honestly assess what technology supports public safety and decide if that technology is effective. The key to solving the challenges facing our criminal justice system and modernizing policing is leveraging data on a massive scale. To make this a possibility, we first need to implement the tools necessary to view and report data both at the state and local levels. Then, police leaders must integrate data-informed decision-making into the culture and operations of their agencies.

— Matthew Polega is head of communications and public policy for Mark43.

Data interpretation

With so many emerging technologies on the market aimed at streamlining police operations, the main challenge for police leaders will be keeping up with these potential tools.

When adopting a new solution, it’s important to have a specific use case in mind, otherwise, you’re just deploying technology for the sake of it, running the risk of making workflows more challenging and time-consuming for officers than they were beforehand. Adopting a challenge-solution mindset when considering technology is key to ensuring leaders achieve maximum ROI from their deployments.

In my opinion, the need for data interpretation will pose the greatest opportunity to deploy emerging technologies. Departments are set to collect much more data in the years ahead as 5G will support much faster real-time information sharing between officers and Next-Generation 911 will enable them to collect photos and video from civilians at the scene of an incident. Having data is one thing; turning it into actionable insights is another. While this data can help lead to greater situational awareness and a more informed response, officers do not have time to sort through all of this information when driving to a scene. That’s where the development of AI-based analytic tools will be key to helping departments quickly analyze and interpret this new abundance of information.   

Ultimately, while emerging technologies can significantly enhance police operations, the deployment process should revolve around your department’s unique needs. For many, those needs will likely center on data interpretation as data collection grows.

— Marcus Claycomb is a business development manager at Panasonic.

Platform integration

Police leaders know that problems manifest in two ways: in the form of fires or rust, with rust being all-to-easy to ignore. I’d like to draw attention to the rust that has been accumulating in police technology and will be the source of major challenges for police leaders on the horizon if left unaddressed.

Law enforcement has experienced transformative technological changes over the past few decades with the adoption of records management systems, computer-aided dispatch, body-worn cameras and systems for other agency-specific functions. While these systems initially added undeniable value to operations, today they are perpetuating an ever-increasing data footprint for officers that will continue to drain efficiency and capacity.

Today, officers are hyper-reliant on these systems to do their jobs. They are inundated with credentials to access these separate systems, and then it is solely on the individual to connect the dots between important data points that exist between siloes. This adds significant time to the investigation life cycle, especially since these systems offer very little in the form of discovery beyond simple searches. In a climate where agencies are fighting to hire and retain staff, they cannot afford to allow their data footprint to outgrow their abilities to manage their officers’ capacity.

Agencies seeking to stay ahead of this challenge must integrate platform enterprise analytics into their operating model and culture. Platform in the sense that data can be aggregated and accessed for any analytical purpose in one place, and enterprise in the sense that the platform can scale with the agency as use-cases and applications expand. In doing so, your data that was once a burden will instead serve as an opportunity to increase efficiencies, find answers to critical questions, and control the narrative of how police work is being conducted in your communities.

— Tyler Nelson is a justice and public safety senior executive at SAS, who has served as a specialized forces operator in the US Coast Guard and as a law enforcement officer in South Carolina.

Interoperability

According to our recent public safety trends survey, 46% of respondents said that better information sharing between different agencies/departments would improve public safety operations. This highlights a current challenge in the public safety space: interoperability.

Too often during an emergency, first responders are unable to access important information – be it about location, medical or mental health history of a caller, or something else – about the situation they are walking into, increasing risk and slowing response times. When systems are interoperable and data can be shared across different departments or jurisdictions, the response to an incident can be more well-informed, increasing both officer safety and quickening response times. Solutions that allow for this kind of data-sharing are critical in emergency response – especially when multiple teams are involved.

— Todd Miller is SVP Strategic Programs at Rave Mobile Safety.

NEXT: 6 action items that should be part of every police department's technology strategy

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