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Staffing shortages are having a negative impact on policing, but technology can help

Policy-based recording and AI-assisted automation let officers do more with less, more safely

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Short-staffed? Under resourced? Put technology to work.

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This article originally appeared in “What cops want in 2023.” Download the full report here for an in-depth analysis of the State of the Industry survey, including why officers love & hate their jobs, the toxic messaging sabotaging recruitment, and how technology can help with staffing shortages.

Sponsored by Utility

By Laura Neitzel, Police1 BrandFocus Staff

The staffing and recruitment crisis in law enforcement is taking its toll not only on officer wellness, but also on the services provided to constituents.

Without full staffing, some police departments have canceled daytime or nighttime patrols, reduced two-officer units to one-officer units, imposed mandatory overtime, shelved special assignments to accommodate patrol needs and reduced the number of traffic stops. Many officers who remain on the job have less time for training and policy review.

The What Cops Want in 2023 survey conducted by Police1 asked respondents about the law enforcement recruitment and retention crisis and whether it had impacted their jobs. A whopping 95% of respondents have seen direct impacts of low staffing at their agency.

While efforts across the nation are underway to boost interest in law enforcement as a profession, it is unlikely that law enforcement agencies will be able to solve the problem in the near term. That’s why many agencies are increasingly relying on technology as a force multiplier that makes their officers’ jobs safer and more efficient.

Here are some of the ways technology from Utility can help alleviate some of the problems caused by short-staffing.

Automated policy-based recording lets officers focus on the situation, not the camera

Three in five respondents to the survey said they don’t have adequate time for training, and 49% said they have less time to review department policies. Today – when officers’ actions are being scrutinized and second-guessed more than ever – is exactly the wrong time for officers to fall out of compliance with department policy or lack adequate instruction in areas like de-escalation training. But lack of resources and the need to divert training time to patrolling has put officers between a rock and a hard place – requiring them to make judgment calls and take actions based on policies they haven’t had time to learn.

Intelligent technologies like smart body-worn cameras, in-car video and communication platforms and digital evidence management systems can alleviate this burden by automating actions like bodycam recording based on department policy. The officer simply doesn’t need to worry about accidentally forgetting to start the recording.

Polaris, Utility’s digital evidence management system, uses data from an agency’s pre-existing CAD platforms to automate the recording of body-worn and in-car videos. It offers differing levels of camera activation based on department policy and other user-defined rules, so, for instance, the bodycam can be configured to automatically start recording when the vehicle door opens and the officer exits. Polaris can also be manually programmed on-the-fly or from CAD calls to start or stop recording when an officer enters or exits a pre-defined geographical area or action zone.

To save time and ensure chain of custody is preserved, Polaris also provides a seamless transfer of digital evidence from all devices to CJIS-compliant storage, removing the need for officers to manually offload the media. Cloud-based software also makes it quick and easy to share digital evidence with investigators, prosecutors and other interested parties from any browser.

Special features add new layers of protection for the solo patrol

More than half (56%) of survey respondents said they worked at agencies with one-officer units. Another 21% were at agencies that have increased the number of one-officer units. This reduction in the number of two-officer units means more officers are alone when they respond to calls. Not surprisingly, 68% of respondents said that due to short staffing they were concerned about their on-duty safety.

But a single unit on patrol does not mean that officer is alone. An intelligent digital evidence management system and smart camera technology can remotely provide additional eyes and situational awareness on the scene.

When an officer is dispatched to a call, Polaris can track not only the location and movement of the patrol vehicle, but also use GPS tracking within the officer’s body camera to know exactly where the officer is – even if they’ve left the vehicle.

Should that officer need backup, a live map view gives command staff and dispatch real-time situational awareness of the locations of all officers and vehicles for quick deployment of the nearest appropriate resource. Supervisors can also start recording remotely and initiate live streaming from an ongoing critical event in the field.

EOS has a number of safety features that – when time and intelligence matter most – will add a layer of security around the solo officer.

If an officer starts running, the built-in accelerometer will detect rapid movement and automatically trigger recording. Should that officer go prone in the field or lie flat for a specific amount of time, the Officer Down feature will notify all vehicles in the area that an officer needs immediate assistance. GPS tracking on the prone officer’s bodycam will lead directly to their specific location.

Similarly, by communicating with a smart sensor placed within the officer’s holster, EOS will immediately detect when a firearm is removed from its holster and send real-time alerts to dispatch and nearby officers.

Artificial intelligence is a force multiplier

Almost half of survey respondents (46%) said the staffing shortage has made them less likely to conduct traffic stops. But the important business of identifying and intercepting vehicles of interest doesn’t have to stop just because the officer is not on traffic duty.

Rocket by Utility, a mobile communication platform, integrates the policy-based automatic recording and GPS positioning features of EOS and Polaris with automated license plate recognition, all in one web-based application. Rocket also works with the internally mounted vehicle cameras or with externally mounted automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) cameras.

Rocket uses artificial intelligence to analyze vehicle registration plates, cross-checking against federal, state and local hotlists from the Polaris system. As an officer goes about their shift, Rocket ALPR continually and passively scans license plates while the vehicle is on patrol or parked, stores footage and securely uploads it to the cloud.

Like EOS, through Polaris, Rocket can be configured to automatically start or stop video recording based on agency-defined geographical zones or actions like opening a vehicle door.

If the license plate reader detects a hotlist or other suspect vehicle, Rocket will immediately alert the patrol officer, giving them real-time situational awareness. Through Polaris, it also instantly sends an alert to dispatch and other officers in proximity. It can even automate calls for backup based on events detected by in-vehicle sensors, like engaging lights and sirens or removing a firearm from a weapon mount.

Using artificial intelligence to speed investigations

Another casualty of short staffing is investigations. More than a third (35%) of survey respondents said they are pulled off specialty assignments to work patrol shifts. This may leave investigators short-handed, delaying the solving or prosecution of crimes. The artificial intelligence engine in Polaris can speed investigations by analyzing digital evidence collected from EOS, Rocket or other sources like surveillance video or doorbell cameras and surfacing only that meeting user-defined criteria. Polaris will also automatically redact video and audio evidence to protect privacy rights before being shared, saving short-staffed agencies valuable hours.

“As communities encourage the police to stop making traffic stops and to cease enforcement for minor crimes, technology may be an avenue to protect the public without needing a uniformed cop,” said Bob Harrison, retired police chief and researcher with the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. “Artificial intelligence may be another means, a future that may better protect the public with needing (as many of) the police.”

Technology is a silver lining to the recruiting crisis

In a time where law enforcement agencies around the country are pulling out all the stops to retain officers and recruit the next generation, technology holds another silver lining.

Gen Z are attracted to careers that make a positive impact on the community, and those are exactly the type of recruits that make good officers. The agencies and departments that invest in technology will be best positioned to attract this generation as they enter the workforce.

Agencies that embrace the promise and possibilities of AI to improve efficiency, increase transparency and enhance officer safety will weather the staffing crisis and emerge stronger, more respected and more effective.

Laura Neitzel is Director of Branded Content for Lexipol, where she produces written and multimedia branded content of relevance to a public safety audience, including law enforcement, fire, EMS and corrections. She holds degrees in English from the University of Texas and the University of North Texas, and has over 20 years’ experience writing and producing branded and educational content for nationally-recognized companies, government agencies, non-profits and advocacy organizations.