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5 things to look for in police operations software

To meet the evolving needs of law enforcement, a CAD/RMS platform must be customizable, user-friendly and cloud-based

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The Mark43 CAD/RMS system is designed to meet today’s workflows and adapt as needed. Each user can build their own workspace and optimize their dashboard for their role and responsibility


Sponsored by Mark43

One of the most dreaded processes in a public safety agency is the task of selecting and implementing a new computer-aided dispatch/records management software system. Although the existing system may be outmoded or no longer supported, there’s comfort in the familiarity of a current system, and there will be predictable griping about what the old versus new system does or does differently.

To ease the transition, agency leaders should look for a system that offers flexibility in interface design and configuration so that it is easy to learn and use. For example, the orientation and training process for the CAD/RMS system from Mark43 typically requires only half a day before users are ready for the system to be deployed agency-wide. Here are five key things to look for when considering new police operations software:

1. Quick report-writing experience

Report-writing software that is integrated your CAD/RMS system greatly simplifies the report creation process. Instead of a fixed data entry screen that has to be the framework for every report an officer might need, the Mark43 system includes an integrated report module that displays only the fields relevant to the incident the officer is documenting.

If there are no vehicles involved in the incident, no data fields for describing vehicles are on the screen. At the same time, if an incident involves 10 different vehicles, the report writer can insert a new block of vehicle form fields as needed, with many of the fields auto-populated from the history already established for that call.

This feature is doubly helpful for new officers who are still learning to write reports. Many report-writing systems leave it to the author of the report to know which forms are required to complete a case. Some agencies have over 100 report forms in their inventory. Prompting the officer to complete this form or that one, depending on the incident, accelerates learning and makes for a more efficient process.

The supervisor who reviews and approves the reports is less likely to return a report for revision when all of the necessary forms and information are included.

2. NIBRS-certified data entry interface

In terms of data flow, telecommunicators and field units are at one end of the stream, and crime analysts and managers are at the other. Since not all possible data queries are predictable, it’s critical that end users be able to create their own queries as needed.

This is even more essential as the FBI moves from Uniform Crime Reports to the National Incident-Based Reporting System completely by the start of 2021. One of the major differences between UCR and NIBRS is that NIBRS allows for multiple offenses contained within a single incident to be reported, rather than the most-serious crime documented under the Summary Reporting System and UCR.

Mark43’s software automatically collects and collates the data needed for NIBRS, reducing the workload for the manager or crime analyst. Documenting these details as they become known also helps to ensure that information is not lost due to poor documentation or data overload.

3. Customizable dashboard

Most software written for law enforcement environments presents a home screen or dashboard that the software designer believes is most efficient and useful. Most of those designers haven’t been cops. They might have consulted with some working police officers in reaching their design, but they still have to make many assumptions about the way the users will work.

Mark43’s software designers performed careful observation of law enforcement operations to learn what features would be most useful before designing their CAD/RMS system, and the software is easily configurable on both the agency and the user levels. The CAD and RMS applications allow each user to build their own workspace, importing and arranging windows on their display to their preference so each officer can configure the dashboard the way that makes the most sense to them.

4. Options for flexibility in dispatch

Public safety telecommunicators will have become familiar with a legacy CAD/RMS system. Getting used to the layout and information flow of a new application can be challenging and often frustrating. Just as most people who work at a desk will want to arrange the items on the desktop to suit their workflow, officers and dispatchers like to be able to arrange their computer workspaces.

The Mark43 CAD system provides a user-friendly layout that makes this easy. A dispatcher who might find themselves moving between a police radio channel, a fire service channel and a call-taker position can have different screen layouts, each optimized for that task. Each user can choose from multiple information displays, such as a map showing the location of each police, fire or EMS unit; one of calls pending dispatch; another a data entry form for telephone reports or police on-site activity; and a text chat window for messaging between users. Once set up, these configurations are stored in the user’s account, to be deployed as needed.

5. Cloud-based platform and redundant server locations

Since the onset of COVID-19, many in-person jobs have been made remote to help slow the spread of the disease. To support remote work, or simply as a backup plan, public safety agencies need a web-based setup that allows dispatch to happen from anywhere. For example, Mark43’s CAD/RMS stores data in the cloud, rather than on a local server. Because the system is cloud-based, any user terminal capable of displaying a web browser can be used for access.

This is contrary to traditional thinking about data security, but cloud storage is actually more secure than local storage. In the conventional server model, there is a single point of failure, possibly reducing the potential for disaster by having an off-site backup. With cloud storage, data might be stored redundantly in a dozen distant places, all of them equally accessible to the user and protected against a breach by multiple safeguards. Multibillion-dollar firms like Amazon and Netflix are completely reliant on the cloud and have demonstrated this design to be reliable.

When both the data and the application reside in the cloud, there is considerably less dependence on the resources of the computer in front of the user. The local computer sees the application, no matter how complex, as just another web page. Users are not so dependent on the computing horsepower resident in their machine, so less-powerful laptops and desktop machines are as nimble as the more expensive models. In a large-scale emergency, any user terminal can be configured as a dispatch desktop.

This software model also provides the ability to implement patches and updates on the fly, rather than as a version upgrade that has to be pushed out and installed on each user computer. Besides saving time, this ensures that everyone is using the same version with the same updates, all the time.

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia and Oregon. He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.