Leveraging technology in policing: A step-by-step guide to establishing a Real-Time Crime Center for smaller law enforcement agencies
How to integrate existing technology, hire and train personnel, overcome budget challenges and educate the community
In today’s rapidly evolving world of law enforcement, staying ahead of the curve is crucial to ensure the safety and security of our communities.
Real-time crime centers (RTCCs) have emerged as a game-changing tool, enabling law enforcement agencies to harness the power of technology and data to combat crime more effectively and police more efficiently.
While larger agencies have long embraced this concept, smaller and mid-sized law enforcement agencies may wonder how to embark on the RTCC journey. In this article, we’ll explore the steps to get started building a real-time crime center. We will review:
- How to integrate existing technology
- How to hire and train personnel
- How to overcome budget challenges
- How to educate the community.
Assess your current technology
Before diving into the world of real-time crime centers, it’s essential to take stock of your existing technology infrastructure. Smaller and mid-sized law enforcement agencies often have limited resources, but that doesn’t mean they can’t leverage what is already in place. Start by evaluating your current systems and identifying areas that can be integrated into a real-time crime center:
- Data management: Ensure your agency has a robust data management system in place. Modern law enforcement relies heavily on data, so having a secure and efficient system to store and access information is crucial. In general, any successful RTCC will need at least one internal and one external investigative database to perform their duties. Providing personnel access to these databases is key to starting off on the right path.
- Security and License Plate Recognition (LPR) cameras: If you have live-view security and/or LPR cameras installed in your jurisdiction, consider how they can be integrated into your RTCC. Cameras are valuable tools for both prevention and investigation. With a little extra legwork, you can also take advantage of privately funded LPR and live-viewed security cameras.
- Communication systems: Effective communication is the backbone of law enforcement. Evaluate your radio and dispatch systems to ensure they can seamlessly connect with your future crime center. Simplicity goes a long way and having something as simple as smartphones that are assigned to the room itself can greatly enhance the communication capability of an RTCC.
Invest in the right technology – in the right order
For smaller and mid-sized agencies, choosing the right technology partner is essential. Companies offer real-time crime center software tailored to the needs of law enforcement agencies. When selecting a technology provider, look for the following features:
- Integration capabilities: The software should be able to integrate with your existing systems and hardware, minimizing the need for a complete overhaul of your technology infrastructure.
- User-friendly interface: A user-friendly interface ensures that your personnel can quickly adapt to the new system, reducing the learning curve.
- Scalability: As your agency grows, your technology needs will evolve. Choose a solution that can scale with your requirements over time.
As powerful as an integration platform can be in an RTCC environment, the platform can only shine when there are actual devices to integrate. Prioritizing RTCC software should not be placed above getting evidence-collecting devices in the field since these are the tools that an RTCC relies upon to be successful.
Hire and train personnel
Building a real-time crime center is not just about technology; it’s also about the people who will operate it. All the technology in the world will be meaningless if there’s nobody there to use it. Smaller and mid-sized agencies may face challenges in hiring and training personnel for this specialized role. Here’s how to approach this crucial aspect:
- Identify existing talent: Look within your agency for individuals who may have the skills and aptitude for real-time crime center operations. Consider offering training and certification programs to upskill existing personnel. A brand-new RTCC can offer an exciting new challenge for employees who may be getting tired of their existing work or are looking to upskill. A natural location to find qualified personnel for your budding RTCC is your current crime analysts. These individuals already have a skill set that can plug and play into an RTCC with just a few simple changes to their duties.
- Collaborate with local educational institutions: Partnering with local colleges and universities can be a cost-effective way to access a pool of potential recruits. Establish internship programs that offer students hands-on experience in an RTCC environment.
- Invest in training: Budget constraints may limit your ability to hire experienced personnel. In such cases, invest in comprehensive training programs to bring your team up to speed on real-time crime center operations.
Overcome budget challenges
Budget limitations are a common concern for smaller and mid-sized law enforcement agencies. However, building a robust RTCC doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some strategies to overcome budget challenges:
- Grant opportunities: Research federal, state and local grant opportunities that can fund the establishment of a real-time crime center. Many agencies have successfully secured grants to support technology upgrades.
- Leverage partnerships: Collaborate with other government agencies, community organizations and local businesses that share an interest in improving public safety. These partnerships can lead to shared funding and resources.
- Phased implementation: Instead of trying to build a fully equipped crime center all at once, consider a phased approach. Start with essential components and gradually expand as funds become available.
Prioritize efficiency over aesthetics: Building an aesthetically pleasing RTCC can be expensive. When looking to develop your RTCC, prioritize funding for tools and technology that will make the center successful in collecting evidence and solving crime rather than prioritizing how the center actually looks.
Educate the community
Building a real-time crime center is not only about improving law enforcement capabilities but also about fostering trust and transparency within the community. Here’s how to educate the public about the benefits of a real-time crime center:
- Community outreach: Hold public meetings, workshops and informational sessions to explain the purpose and advantages of a real-time crime center. Address concerns about privacy and data security.
- Transparency: Be open and transparent about how the technology will be used and the safeguards in place to protect individual rights. Ensure that policies and procedures are clearly communicated to the public.
- Engage with community leaders: Collaborate with community leaders, local influencers and neighborhood associations to build support for the real-time crime center initiative. Their endorsement can be instrumental in gaining public trust.
Smaller and mid-sized law enforcement agencies can reap the benefits of real-time crime centers by taking a strategic and resource-conscious approach. Start by assessing your current technology, then invest in the right technology partner, and prioritize the hiring and training of personnel. Overcoming budget challenges requires creativity and collaboration while educating the community is essential for building trust.
The journey to establishing a real-time crime center may be challenging, but the rewards in terms of crime prevention and public safety are worth the effort.
Want to dive further into the framework above, and hear lessons from real agencies tackling each of these challenges? Check out this video series on Real-Time Crime Centers: The Future of Policing, where I travel across the country to speak with RTCC analysts, command staff, and Chiefs and Sheriffs doing the hard work of building a safer and more secure future for their communities.