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Tired of hearing demands for better data? Why ignoring it won’t help

What is it about law enforcement that makes sharing information so hard? Here are 3 challenges to overcoming the digital paradox


Sponsored by Forensic Logic

By Yoona Ha for PoliceOne BrandFocus

As the popularity of true crime stories has increased substantially over the past few years, it gives us a glimpse into the past, where information sharing among agencies could have saved lives.

The benefits of information sharing among law enforcement have been well-documented – having a strategic advantage based on information helps police be more proactive in preventing crime and security incidents. (image/Getty)
The benefits of information sharing among law enforcement have been well-documented – having a strategic advantage based on information helps police be more proactive in preventing crime and security incidents. (image/Getty)

From domestic terrorism attacks to mass shootings, there are countless cases that could have been proactively responded to through rapid analysis and sharing of data among agencies. The promise of today’s technology has empowered officers and investigators to focus on higher-value activities like predictive policing while being more efficient in areas like time spent on writing reports.

Yet there are still challenges that make achieving meaningful digital transformation difficult for law enforcement.

Whether your agency is in the stages of drafting its first digital policing strategy or looking to update existing approaches, knowing what the most common challenges are and having a roadmap to address them are key steps every leader should consider. Data analytics is already used to save more lives (it’s being used to combat HIV transmission for example), so why shouldn’t law enforcement use data to prevent crime? Platforms like COPLINK X are helping investigators in California connect the dots on related crimes, so that police leaders find actionable intelligence that opens the door to interventions.

Challenge 1: Leading a cultural movement toward increased information sharing

Does your organization’s culture value and reward interagency information sharing? How is your organization performing in terms of communications interoperability?

These are questions to ask yourself as you’re looking to assess your agency’s level of intelligence analysis and sharing. One survey published by the National Institute of Justice emphasized the important role of law enforcement leaders to encourage more intelligence sharing on a local, regional and national level by prioritizing this practice throughout their own agencies.  

A good starting point would be to assess your organization’s current culture. If there are barriers, then how can you separate the actual impediments from the perceived barriers to data sharing? It’s not easy to overhaul existing traditional policing paradigms, but a leader’s investment toward creating new knowledge and training for innovation can help officers across all ranks acquire new insights into how data sharing could improve.

The benefits of information sharing among law enforcement have been well-documented – having a strategic advantage based on information helps police be more proactive in preventing crime and security incidents. The sophistication of today’s crime calls for increased prioritization and efficiency in law enforcement and data-driven policing helps meet those challenges.

Challenge 2: Integration of your information sharing platform

When it comes to technology investments, a common mistake among law enforcement agencies is to buy tools with just individual agency usage in mind. Not having tools that are capable or easy to leverage as part of a strategic plan for interagency communications can be both costly and cumbersome.

Just ask Jim Dudley, a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department and former deputy chief of the patrol bureau, who experienced the frustrations of technology that didn’t interface well with other information databases on a local, state and federal level.

“It was expected back then that unless you made a physical phone call to another agency to talk about a particular suspect or a crime trend, you wouldn’t get the information you needed,” said Dudley. “Today we’ve made progress with information sharing, but when there’s frustrating and cumbersome user experience, that also brings its own challenges.”

During his time as deputy chief of the patrol bureau, Dudley noticed that some officers would forgo writing incident reports to avoid the hassle of writing a digital police report. On the flip side, some officers and analysts found themselves inundated with data that are not actionable, and the overabundance of information was difficult to keep up with and process.

That’s why leaders need to ask themselves questions such as:

  • Will the system help me sort through and prioritize high concentrations of data?
  • Is there a steep learning curve associated with operating this platform?
  • How will the platform create efficiency for officers across all ranks?
  • Will the platform provide meaningful insights about crimes and investigations?
  • Will the platform integrate well with our existing IT infrastructure and other databases?

“There’s still room for more guidance on how agencies can leverage best practices as it comes to leveraging the right tools,” Dudley said. Thinking of your tech purchases with integration with your agency’s digital ecosystem in mind—can help you avoid the mistake of buying a system that could perpetuate information silos.

Challenge 3: Using technology to improve community relations

Every department in the U.S. faces the realities of budget constraints and increased public expectations for modern policing practices and better outcomes. Using technology that creates efficiency, can lead to “smarter” policing practices, less crime and better community relations.

Data and information sharing tools can become a force multiplier for your agency. Police executives can lead their agency to holistically embrace data sharing which can allow agencies to:

  • Leverage a practice solution that balances public safety, community service needs, available funds, and taxpayer expectations.
  • Strengthen their legitimacy with diverse communities by allowing police the opportunity to identify and develop crime trends and patterns more easily and efficiently.
  • Free up resources and costs on administrative evidence compiling tasks through automation.
  • Make better use of intelligence and other data and information systems by promoting data transparency.
  • Reduce the rate of violent crimes. (After starting its data-driven approach to gun crime, the Oakland Police Department saw a 50% decrease in shootings, a 42% drop in homicides and a 38% decline in robberies).
  • Better identify individuals that could potentially be involved in an act of crime by allowing law enforcement to better connect the dots. (High Point Police Department has a well-documented track record of reducing crime through its use and analysis of data through its Focused Deterrence program.)
  • Improve crime linking and mapping that can help investigators become crime forecasters by leveraging preemptive policing strategies.

This represents an opportunity for you and your agency to review and reflect on your current information sharing practices and cultural norms. Aligning on shared goals and needs, finding incentives for information sharing and holding your agency accountable for progress in digital information sharing can help your department get closer to achieving meaningful digital transformation.

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