As a guy who writes about issues associated with rural police work, technology has never been my thing. For the most part I’m a stubborn country boy. There is always at least one dirty pickup in my yard, I have an American flag flying from my front porch, and a retired coonhound that sleeps below it (no joke).
I am not any type of techno-whiz. Prior to 9/11 if I would have been asked to define “Homeland Security” my answer probably would have involved a chuckle and something about a comfortable chair in my home and a fully loaded ‘870 close by.
In the present day world however, we all need to take these issues far more seriously and strive to understand and be experts in the field of counterterrorism both foreign and domestic.
Teaching An Old Dog
Unfortunately, what this means for guys like me who are better than halfway through their careers is that we need to be aware of some of the new tools and skills that are out there to help us do our jobs better... and be willing to use them.
Sure we still have all that low-tech cop knowledge floating in our brains, like shining your flashlight in the middle of the bad guys back during a foot chase & hoping it creates enough of a shadow to mess up their vision and make ‘em fall on their face. Or something less tactical like how to unlock keys from a crown vic using only a VHF antenna unscrewed from the trunk lid. But now we need to try to embrace technology that was never even thought about when many of us began our careers.
Think about the “web” and how quickly information can be transferred. A few people have found out the hard way how quickly something posted online can end up around cyberspace. On the plus side the intelligence that helps us fight crime “should” be moving just as fast, unfortunately, as found out after 9/11... it does not.
I understand the dynamic, for cops information is golden, and it is cool to be able to work for department “X” and be able to say you have a top secret super database to document contacts and intelligence, but isn’t it better to be able to share that info when it’s needed with other agencies in the same area.
Rural cops know that just because a troublemaker lives in a town of 3,000 people, it does not mean they stay there. Shouldn’t the cop in the town up the road know the same info if the troublemaker frequents their jurisdiction?
From ‘Live With’ to ‘Love?’
A good example of how things could be done better is the Mountain Empire Criminal Justice Information Network (MECJIN), 15 counties and 50 municipalities that have an excellent setup for sharing information with a few clicks on the MDC. There is also MEMEX software that will assist in pulling data from the myriad of databases used by all the different agencies.
Suddenly everyone is on the same page and has access to the same information with a point and a click.
That’s cool, even to a stubborn country cop.
With tools out there like predictive analytics to actually forecast crime, and geospatial analysis that can be used any number of ways to assist with a major event from a violent terrorist attack, or even a soft-target agri-terrorism disease outbreak, train derailment, or any number of events.
The geospatial analysis can be set up with mapping overlays to allocate resources, evacuations, quarantine areas and save time with a point and click to determine the next logical course of action. Add to these any number of databases to accurately document contacts and intelligence there is some really interesting stuff out there we should all be trying to utilize.
These systems can be very valuable, however like any other database; they are only as good as the info going into them. In many small agencies you have the road or field officers responsible for the data entry in these systems; they want to be in the field and not behind the computer. What happens is the only info that is entered is the bare minimum, and there is a ton of information that is lost in the human brain or notebook along the way that nobody knows about except the cop who generated it.
I try to apply common sense to most of life’s dilemmas, so I ask myself: in the world of police databases, how many different variations of call for service/intelligence databases are out there that all do pretty much the same thing and why does each agency feel their needs are different from the jurisdiction up the road? My experience has shown me that they all document the same information, the only difference is that some are a far bigger pain to use than others.
A Long Road Ahead
The goal of this article is to get both cops and administrators thinking about where their information is going as well as who is gathering it. If the answer to both is internally within your own agency then you are doing a disservice not only to the other jurisdictions around you, but the public who depends on law enforcement to catch the bad guys.
Remind yourself that at the present time a 10-year-old kid can share pictures of their recent baseball game to the entire World Wide Web in a matter of seconds, but we have good solid criminal intelligence that sits in databases around the country for years without anyone knowing it except the officer who entered it.
At a time where a person with evil intentions can possibly be flying a passenger jet into the heart of New York City one day or potentially planning a terror attack at national park the next, we cannot afford to have information not getting out to all agencies. Think about the needs of your geographic area and how you can best gather and share information quickly.
This does not imply that all field and road officers need to camp out behind the computer and become a computer whiz. Rather, efforts have been made to create user-friendly databases or assign trained intelligence analysts to enter this information, and that everyone should work closely with your fusion center to make sure all intelligence gets to the right people and out to the field at the speed of light.
Being able to know everything about the person in front of you can not only keep you safe, but encourage you to add your little piece of the database puzzle and keep the dots connected as to what some of these people are really up to out there.