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Why centralized police databases are force multipliers

If your police department is not sharing information with neighboring agencies, you are not serving your community or your officers

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As straightforward as this may sound, making it happen can be a challenge due to bureaucracies and funding challenges.


A sobering reality of crime is that it does not respect jurisdictional boundaries. And unfortunately, many police agencies utilize databases that only contain information compiled by their own organization. As a result, a crime series that affects several towns within a few miles of each other may go undetected because there is no collective awareness of a regional crime problem.

Conversely, when agencies within a region use a shared system for their records, efficiency is improved and crimefighting capabilities are enhanced. In effect, a commonsense approach to using technology becomes an effective force multiplier.

Ready access to relevant Information has long been a key component of effective law enforcement operations. In fact, many agencies now embrace a methodology known as intelligence-led policing, underscoring the critical role that information plays in decisions and deployment. Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile computing, today’s officers can query any data source the department authorizes. The broader the range of available data, the more effective an officer, investigator or crime analyst can be.

Agencies that share boundaries or agencies within a specified region should consider utilizing a single robust data system that allows information to be readily accessed by personnel from all participating agencies. Doing so will provide immediate return on investment in the form of improved efficiency for the agencies.

As straightforward as this may sound, making it happen can be a challenge due to bureaucracies and funding challenges. Here are seven steps to move toward data-sharing capabilities in your area:

1. Determine level of interest.

Most police leaders now understand the power of information and many will welcome the discussion of making information available on a regional basis.

2. Discuss the issue of governance.

In some situations, it makes sense to have one agency take the lead and manage the project. In others, it will work better to establish a coalition of agencies where each agency has equal power and has one vote. Regardless, figure this out early in the process because it can be a deal breaker for some. Establish a memorandum of understanding that clarifies the role of each agency and the information that will be shared.

3. Assess systems currently in use throughout your region.

You may find that several agencies are already using a specific vendor and are satisfied with their experience. If this is the case, check with that vendor to determine whether they can effectively support multi-agency use. You may find that some agencies are considering a total replacement or significant upgrade and that might factor into your project. If there is not a clear direction in terms of vendor, put together a request for proposal (RFP). The non-profit RAND Corporation has a free publication, Improving Information-Sharing Across Law Enforcement: Why Can’t We Know?, that includes important RFP requirements.

4. Develop a realistic budget.

Work through your established governance committee to determine how costs will be shared. Remember to factor in maintenance and support. Projects of this nature can be costly, but it is likely that the total cost will be less than the sum of individual agency costs for disparate systems that create information silos.

5. Share information widely.

Data has value and you may find that you can augment some of your project’s cost by making the information available to public safety agencies that are not data contributors. For example, federal agencies, probation, parole and courts may have a legitimate and lawful reason to access local agency incident data. If they have an option of going to a single-source to access an entire region, they may be willing to provide funding or in-kind services towards maintaining the system.

6. Consider grant funding.

Another funding consideration is whether your data-sharing project could qualify for the Homeland Security Grant Program. During FY 2018, the HSGP is providing more than one billion dollars to agencies and regional data sharing is often considered a best practice when it comes to thwarting terrorism.

7. Don’t overlook the importance of policy and training.

Criminal justice information is subject to restrictions as set forth in the Criminal Justice Information Security policy manual. You’ll need to ensure full CJIS compliance by your system and your personnel. Policy and training will play a key role.

If your officers and investigators don’t currently have access to relevant information from adjacent areas, it’s time to move towards a regional data system. Doing so will improve effectiveness, increase situational awareness and provide a better quality of service to the citizens in your community.

Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and investigations and retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, California. He is a graduate of the 201st FBI National Academy and holds a Master’s degree in Criminology from the University of California, Irvine. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards and training. Dale is the former editor-in-chief of Law Officer Magazine and is the founder of Below 100.