Using Digital Technology to Transform Your Police Department

Robert Boehmer

Remember when business guru and Cisco CEO John Chambers famously announced that every organization will be digital?

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Remember when business guru and Cisco CEO John Chambers famously announced that every organization will be digital? We’re now several decades into the “digital revolution” and most organizations are well on their way to hardwiring digital into nearly every facet of their work. Unfortunately, too many police executives and city leaders missed that memo and are not fully integrating and utilizing the digital tools available that could improve policing, resource allocation, operational efficiency and community outreach.

How Do You Define “Technology?” That Depends.

Many police chiefs will tell you, “Yes, we have technology, and we depend on it every day.” But ask to see how they track investigative casework, for example, and they might show you an Excel spreadsheet. Sometimes, our police department assessments have identified key processes – like tracking of investigative casework or internal affairs cases – logged into bound, soft-cover primers similar to what students would use for assignments. In other cases, departments purchase robust technology systems but do not utilize all the features, relying only on the most basic functions.

Technology Offers New Capabilities for Police Departments

When our team was drafting the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Office Law Enforcement Best Practices manual, we pointed out that sophisticated technologies had the potential to transform police departments. If properly integrated, technologies like body-worn cameras, license-plate readers, facial recognition tools, unmanned aircraft systems, social media, and cell phone video are capable of generating reams of data that can be analyzed and used to improve the efficiency and impact of traditional policing.

Criminals Use Technology for Crimes Every Day

If criminals are embracing technology, shouldn’t law enforcement as well? Some of these malicious individuals have become adept at stalking their targets on social media or using these platforms to attract new recruits. Others use encrypted communications that make it hard for law enforcement to conduct electronic surveillance on their activity. Some even livestream their crimes for all to see. At the same time, the use of digital currency (i.e., Bitcoin) has skyrocketed, allowing criminals to obscure thousands of illicit transactions, such as malware ransom, identity theft and fraud, and trafficking in child pornography.

Weaponizing Technology for Good

When used properly, technology can be a powerful force multiplier for police departments. Various systems can help solve crime and even predict where it may happen next. They can collect and analyze information automatically, integrate big data from multiple sources, and identify trends that can result in better resource allocation, more efficient operations and more effective community outreach.

Nine Critical Considerations for Integrating Technology in Police Departments

To harvest the full power of technology, an agency must purchase these systems, turn on all features and functionality, learn how to use them, and train personnel on a regular basis. While crafting the COPS Office Law Enforcement Best Practices Manual, we identified nine considerations for properly integrating and utilizing technology in police departments.

  1. Creating a formal strategic plan and timeline for adopting technology.
  2. Identifying the types of data to capture as well as the rationale and method for capturing it.
  3. Integrating new data and systems with legacy systems.
  4. Analyzing the available data.
  5. Ensuring policies and procedures are updated and consistent with legal requirements and industry practice.
  6. Funding and procuring new technologies.
  7. Sharing information with a variety of stakeholders, including other law enforcement or intelligence agencies and community members.
  8. Adopting security policies and controls that protect against accidental and malicious compromise.
  9. Ensuring individuals’ right to privacy and civil liberty protections.

There are a host of other actions you need to take as well, including: (1) involving your personnel in planning to help ensure “buy in” during implementation; (2) not waiting for current systems to become obsolete to find a proper replacement solution; and (3) planning and budgeting for training early in the procurement process.

Transform Your Department with Digital Technology

If you manage a department as a senior police executive, pull back the curtain on your operations wherever relevant and useful data can be captured, both at headquarters and in the field. Take a close look at how well your department is using its digital tools and what can be improved. Jensen Hughes Law Enforcement Consulting can help evaluate your operations and make that promised transformation real. Learn more about our law enforcement consulting services.

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About the author

Robert Boehmer
Robert Boehmer is an experienced facilitator, trainer and public speaker

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