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Sounding the alarm: Alleviating the paperwork burden in policing

Paperwork consumes officer hours that could be better spent protecting the public and solving crimes


Voice recognition technology can reduce the amount of time an officer spends doing paperwork in the vehicle.


Sponsored by Nuance Communications

By James Careless for Police1 BrandFocus

No one ever signed up to be a police officer to do paperwork. The burden of paperwork is a genuine part of every officer’s life.

Paperwork overload is not the only issue for officers. The fact of the matter is, there is a shortage of officers in law enforcement, and, according to a 2016 study from Pew Research Center, many departments don’t have enough officers to police their communities adequately. Time spent completing incident reports and other mandated documentation is arguably time taken away from their ability to do focus more on policing.

According to the 2019 Role of Technology in Law Enforcement Paperwork Annual Report compiled by Nuance Communications, 56% of law enforcement professionals say they spend three hours or more per shift writing incident reports or on other documentation, rather than actively protecting the public, enforcing the law, and solving crimes. And writing and filing incident reports was considered the most significant drain on productivity, according to 53% of survey respondents.

There is no doubt that proper documentation is vital to effective police work to compile accurate case files, ensure the successful prosecution of guilty parties, and aid in the solving of multi-incident crimes. But striving towards this goal through manual documentation – either typed into a computer or hand-written – is an incredibly time-consuming, prone to error process that comes with real consequences attached.

The problems of paperwork overload

The fundamental problem of paperwork is that it consumes officers’ time and attention that could be better spent on policing. Although proper documentation is a necessity, achieving it can be counter-productive because of the human resources it uses up. Imagine how much more a police department could do with its existing personnel and budget if they were to cut the time of documentation across the department in half?

Beyond consuming time, incident reports, which officers often create in the field, can put them at risk. An officer whose head is bent over the mobile data terminal (MDT) writing a report or entering data in the computer is not aware of what is happening around them. This ‘multi-tasking’ can blind them to threats in their environment and keep them from paying full attention to their surroundings. (Typing in the car is also hard on their bodies because vehicles were never designed to be ergonomic typing environments.)

It’s also worth noting that “multitasking” is a myth. An article in Forbes magazine entitled “How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain (and Your Effectiveness at Work)” notes, “It has been scientifically demonstrated that the brain cannot effectively or efficiently switch between tasks, so you lose time. It takes four times longer to recognize new things so multitasking actually costs time. You also lose time because you often make mistakes.”

Even in instances where officers can solely focus on completing paperwork – which means they are not actively policing – the mind-numbing nature of this task can lead to input and factual errors. These errors can result in faulty police reports that won’t stand up in court under defense cross-examination, which is something a police report is supposed to do.

Relieving the paperwork burden through speech recognition technology

There is a better way to document police activities accurately, and that is by using new police reporting solutions like Nuance’s Dragon Law Enforcement speech recognition. Such software converts speech directly into typed text, allowing the officer to create detailed documents without the need for physical typing – simply by speaking.

Dragon Law Enforcement’s next-generation speech engine and the rugged handheld PowerMic allow officers to literally “speak” their written reports into a laptop or desktop computer loaded with the software. Dragon can also import the officer’s audio recordings into the reports as text and format the entire product in line with departmental layouts and standards. The officer can review and edit their spoken content before finalizing their report and filing it, catching and quickly correcting any errors at this stage.

All told, Dragon Law Enforcement provides a hands-free way to dictate reports, conduct common tasks like license plate lookups, and use the MDT in a more ergonomically-friendly way – all by voice. With the ability to produce reports more accurately and in real-time, departments can slash the paperwork burden, freeing officers to be police rather than office workers.

Positive results

The benefits of using speech recognition to produce police documentation are tangible. Dragon Law Enforcement creates police reports three times faster than by typing them in. These reports are 99% accurate, even when dictated in noisy environments.

Three times faster means that police whose documentation consumed three to four hours daily can cut down their reporting times significantly.

Meanwhile, these reports can now be done more safely while officers are stationary in the patrol vehicle without the officer’s eyes being focused on the MDT screen. They can look around as they speak their reports and pause whenever the police radio comes on with a bulletin.

Ergonomically speaking, officers who speak their reports don’t suffer the physical pains endured by those twisting and typing in their cruisers. Fewer repetitive aches mean fewer on-the-job injuries and less time off work.

Tangible benefits

The time and effort saved by replacing the drudgery of paperwork is a boon to departments large and small.

Less time on paperwork means more time that officers can spend in the community, helping to build relationships that may foster renewed interest in law enforcement and help fill the officer shortage.

Officers have increased job satisfaction when they’re doing the work they signed on for, rather than pecking away at keyboards. Management is happier because their available workforce can now do more work without requiring more money. Better yet, their officers won’t mind doing the additional duties -- because these duties are much more fulfilling than doing administrative work.

Dragon Law Enforcement makes this possible for all police departments – today.

About the Author

James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering law enforcement topics.