Why police need to strategically plan for technology procurement

Police agencies need to assess whether it makes sense to implement a new technology solution using in-house resources


Law enforcement agencies are taking full advantage of existing technology to improve their administrative and tactical operations. As software and hardware systems continue to rapidly evolve, it’s important for officers and agencies to keep up with the latest solutions available to improve operations and efficiency, provide accurate and timely data and ultimately strengthen each case.

A group of U.S. law enforcement practitioners, from chiefs to IT personnel, met at the 123rd annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference to discuss how today’s technology solutions and requirements are shaping 21st century policing. This PoliceOne roundtable, sponsored by CDW-G, shed light on current issues agencies are experiencing when navigating the technology landscape.

Most police leaders realize that keeping up with the latest and greatest technology  can be difficult. From software to hardware, there are an abundance of solutions available to agencies. Although keeping up with it all can seem daunting, the wealth of options is generally a good thing for law enforcement. The plethora of technology gives agencies the opportunity to search for the best solution to meet their business requirements, demand high-quality solutions, review different solutions from multiple vendors to make an informed decision and ultimately negotiate the best price.

On the other hand, with so many options, the risk of implementation failure and financial loss remains high. In order to mitigate this risk, there was a general agreement among the PoliceOne expert roundtable participants that law enforcement agencies must be knowledgeable about what they are purchasing before making an investment.

Participants also agreed that law enforcement agencies may need to accept that they may not have the in-house expertise to take on the administrative oversight of the new solution after it’s implemented, which likely includes data storage, infrastructure and cybersecurity demands.

Due diligence in technology purchasing
It is incumbent on law enforcement agencies to perform their due diligence before any technology procurement. In some cases this is not ideal because of budget or resource constraints, but failure to do so may result in a significant financial loss or data breach without the correct resources and security requirements.

Part of the due diligence process for technology procurement includes, at a minimum, learning from other agencies that deployed the current version of the solution, conducting a needs assessment, documenting those needs, identifying and documenting agency business requirements, examining FBI CJIS requirements and reviewing state and federal legislative requirements.

For larger-scale technology projects, this process also typically includes:

•    issuing a request for information or request for qualifications 
•     inviting vendors for in-person demonstrations 
•    developing and releasing a request for proposal 
•    inviting a smaller group of vendors back for additional demonstrations and questions 
•    reviewing RFP responses 
•    selecting a vendor 
•    finalizing contract negotiations 
•    issuing an award 
•    developing test scenarios 
•    system testing 
•    allowing time for break/fix cycles 
•    developing and administering policies 
•    implementing the solution to all users 
•    delivering training 
•    administering and maintaining the technology program

Law enforcement agencies need to keep all of the above in mind and  assess whether it makes sense to implement a new solution using in-house resources. The alternative to assigning a police officer to oversee an IT implementation is to consider outsourcing this undertaking to experts who have backgrounds as IT business analysts, computer scientists or systems analysts.

During the PoliceOne roundtable, there was an overall consensus that police officers are trained and charged to be police. They are not trained to be IT business or systems analysts. This consensus emphasizes the understanding this group of law enforcement professionals has about the complexities of IT and the responsibilities that go along with overseeing IT.

Technology realities for law enforcement
Technology changes daily. This constant reality impacts law enforcement on multiple levels. Existing software an agency currently has will be updated at some point.

Software updates are often a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, law enforcement agencies now have a new version with some likely bug fixes and backend or frontend improvements. On the flipside, continual software updates may impact an agency’s CJIS requirements, legal requirements, data management, training and infrastructure.

There will always be a new solution available and a likely update or new version during its lifecycle. Given this, agencies need to be confident that the technology they are exploring and considering procuring actually meets their current and likely future business needs and requirements in order for it to be successfully implemented. This necessary burden falls on each individual law enforcement agency, but it’s a necessary reality that all agencies must plan for and factor.

21st century constraints
There are significant financial, personnel and infrastructure constraints agencies should consider when exploring a new solution. The most common financial constraint is underestimating the level of effort — personnel time — for a successful implementation. Every month an IT project is delayed, there is a cost associated with implementation, as well as the officers being unable to use the new solution to do their jobs more efficiently and more effectively. Every time there is a software update needed after implementation, there is a potential cost for retraining personnel and managing unintended consequences due to the updates.

A shared personnel constraint is often the lack of in-house expertise for effectively managing a year-long or large-scale technology program implementation. Beyond daily IT project management requirements, the roundtable group also discussed the general lack of knowledge among law enforcement leaders about cybersecurity and how to prevent, respond and recover from possible cyberattacks targeting law enforcement agencies and personnel.

Law enforcement agencies realize they do not have the infrastructure to store massive amounts of data. With the emergence of video technology, from body-worn cameras to facial recognition software, the amount of data that needs to be retained based on state statute is exorbitant. During the roundtable, the group collectively expressed concerns that data management is a constant issue. Data retention schedules impact storage capacity. FOIA requests for data are on-going and growing. Data security requirements are always changing.

In addition to financial, personnel and infrastructure constraints, the law enforcement participants also highlighted that there are often legislative constraints from data retention policies to data privacy considerations. Every state has different guidelines on record retention, FOIA requests and data release. There was a consensus among the group that legislation is behind the curve and technology case law is still being established.

Today’s reality and the future
Law enforcement agencies are making significant progress accepting the rapid advancements of technology. Today, most agencies agree that sharing law enforcement data locally, regionally, state-wide and nationally is important to combat crime. This wasn’t the case 20 years ago when every agency held data closely.

Now, we’re seeing a new paradigm shift. Law enforcement agencies are recognizing and accepting that they do not have the financial, personnel or infrastructure to keep up with technology updates and comply with legal, CJIS and cybersecurity requirements. As a result, agencies are increasingly looking to outsource several of these requirements.

Given the reality that technology will continue to evolve, new cybersecurity threats will continue to emerge and police officers are not trained to be computer scientists or IT project managers, it is time for law enforcement agencies to think and strategically plan how they will continue to advance their department to effectively manage technology in the 21st century.

About the author

Heather Cotter serves as the Executive Director of the International Public Safety Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit. She’s been working with public safety professionals for several years and understands the challenges agencies and resource constraints agencies continue to face. Heather has a Master's degree from Arizona State University and a Bachelor's at Indiana University, both in Criminology. Contact her at heather@joinipsa.org

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