Five Things to Consider When Implementing Digital Police Solutions

Digital police technologies become more sophisticated by the day. Helping police agencies tackle advanced crimes that evolve as quickly as criminals' imaginations, digital solutions complement and often become the centre-point of proactive policing, investigations and administration.

As Erik Fritsvold, the University of San Diego's Academic Director for the Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership program, writes:

"Police chiefs and agency executives will need to understand the pros and cons to make informed recommendations on what technologies their departments and communities should be investing in. Retired California police chief Jim Davis explains that, when he started his career, 'if we were 10 to 20 years behind in technology it really didn't matter that much. But now, if you are 10 to 20 days behind in your technology, the bad guys are getting way ahead of you.'"

Change is scary. There is a lot to consider when adopting a new solution that innovates and improves upon older, traditional processes. There is often a lot on the line and in the high-stakes environment of policing, we want solutions to be reliable, consistent and functional. Many technologies are developed to achieve different outcomes and accomplish different goals, but there are some commonalities that many digital products and solutions share, which can improve the roles of law enforcement officials.

Whether they are officers, detectives, crime scene investigators, records specialists, administrative officials, school and youth program coordinators, or other staff members, here are five things to consider when implementing modern digital police solutions that can improve efficiencies and save time for your organization's people.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing (the delivery of computing services such as servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics and intelligence over the internet) is here to stay and it's easy to see why. With big benefits like reduced costs through the elimination of on-site data centres and electricity usage, the ability to use just the right amount of IT resources (computing power, storage bandwidth), improved performance, speed and security, reliable data backup, disaster recovery and business continuity, streamlined compliance and flexible environments for innovation, cloud computing has made countless organizations more efficient.

With cloud-based solutions and storage, police agencies can realize big boosts in their digital products' uptime and performance by taking advantage of a much larger resource base to create economies of scale and deploy rapid issue treatment. Well-known cloud service providers, such as Microsoft and Amazon, are able to provide enhanced security that is more sophisticated than what is typically available with smaller, on-site server premises managed by a group of individuals. Mitigating risks in the cloud, such as leaked information, can be mitigated by following best practices for configuring cloud environments.

Alongside storage and performance, cloud computing allows officials to login to their organization's network from anywhere, taking away the need to be on a dedicated device or physical space, logging into a virtual private network (VPN). Cloud computing also ensures organizations continue to own their own data and remain geographically compliant with data hosting requirements.

As PowerDMS states, "Gone are the days of shuffling through file cabinets and thumbing through paperwork. The cloud allows police to both access and analyze data quickly and conveniently in several ways."

Privacy assurance

Police organizations handle sensitive information, including personally identifiable information (PII) from staff and members of the public. Police agencies and vendors working with them have a responsibility to protect the privacy of these individuals and to maintain the integrity of all information stored while conducting work. Solutions, such as digital background checks, websites and off-duty management systems must be secure, both in their development and within the environment/infrastructure that they exist.

Policies, such as GHD's privacy policy, outline how organizations and their affiliates collect, use and store personal information during the course of business. Vendors offering digital solutions to police organizations should be aware of their partners' privacy requirements, such as applicable laws and regulations, relevant data protection standards, geographical storage requirements, and applicable security standards.

Often, police organizations will aim to offer a single digital identity to staff and partners, enabling single sign-on (SSO) access to multiple applications across the business with one username and password. This encourages cohesion, consistency and removes the need to keep track of multiple accounts and passwords for various functions in the same organization.

When collecting PII, a good risk assessment-based rule to follow is that if you don't have a solid plan of what you're going to do with the information being collected, then don't ask for that information. Only request information if you know what it will be used for. Despite potentially strong privacy measures in place, the more PII you collect, the more information you are responsible for keeping safe and protected, and the more that may be compromised in a potential data breach.

Governance and product management

With websites and other digital applications, it's important to set up parameters around where information is going and to whom. Automated forms and modules work to replicate manual tasks and save employees time and resources. These processes should be guided and controlled by clear governance and management structures.

For example, website governance and access requirements can change depending on the police agency. Permissions can be set up so that different users have different levels of admin access to the website, including page review, editing and publishing. It helps to have a defined permissions and publishing process established internally, so that everyone is aware of their role and duties. Effective content management systems enable you to implement points of review and notifications when new content is ready.

It's also critical to establish flexible administrative and user management capabilities behind each digital application. For example, when using the Off-Duty Management tool, law enforcement agencies can set up how and to whom requests are received and reviewed; how opportunities are approved; how jobs are invoiced; and which members have priority access to off-duty opportunities. These opportunities are awarded based on the policies and practices of the agency and officers' schedules. A secure administration portal allows staff to search, retrieve, view, modify and update off-duty requests. Officers can view and apply for off-duty details and submit their timesheets, which tie into payroll exports so officers can be paid via their usual payroll system. Payments from the public can be collected upon job submission or when the details are finalized. Users can also pull real-time reports, such as those on accounts receivable, payment details, transaction summaries, employee timesheets, assigned officers, payroll details and variance.

Mapping integrations

One increasingly prevalent trend among digital police solutions is the ability to integrate intuitive mapping and analysis capabilities to showcase data in an innovative and visually enticing way. By using tools, such as ArcGIS (online geographic information systems), agencies such as the Toronto Police Service and Ottawa Police Service can display where and when different types of crimes have occurred, including homicide, assault, auto theft, break and enter, and robbery. Users can also look up fatal traffic collisions, calls for service, patrol zones and much more.

These mapping tools help law enforcement officials recognize trends in crime and allow them to predict with a level of accuracy what kinds of crimes will be prevalent in which neighbourhood for the foreseeable future. This allows for better police resource allocation, crime prevention efforts and citizen engagement/education.

As Deloitte points out in The Digital Policing Journey: From Concept to Reality, "Today digital technologies make it possible for police officers to be where crime is happening, when it is happening  ̶  even in virtual locations. Their actions can then be directed by powerful, instantly available insights, based on the analysis of vast amounts of data. The location and time of criminal activity can now be identified  ̶  or even predicted  ̶  faster."

This was evidenced in real-world predictive policing in Richmond, VA. Law enforcement used crime mapping, hot spotting, and computer-aided research to predict instances of gunfire on a typical New Year's Eve. Police deployed more resources at these locations, which led to a 47 per cent drop in gunfire and 246 per cent increase in weapons seized in 2015. Models have only gotten more sophisticated, with alerts automatically sent to officials when a high number of a specific type of crime occurs in a localized area.

Remote identity verification

Performing hundreds of background checks every month, law enforcement agencies collect lots of data on members of the public who are seeking record checks for employment or volunteer positions, or who may have been involved in a crime. When processing a check, in addition to standard ID verification inputs, such as credit card confirmation, proof of residency and government-issued ID verification, new technologies are taking advantage of smartphone cameras and a person's social media presence to verify that someone is indeed who they say they are, and not a bot or scammer. New solutions can upload screenshots of different angles of a person's face taken with their phone's camera, or crawl publicly available social media profiles to ensure that accounts discovered aren't fake.

Agencies should be aware of how vendors' solutions handle ID verification. currently partners with Equifax to verify customer ID and mitigate fraud among those who request background checks with police. Police organizations receive these requests and may choose to do their own due diligence after the initial request and ID verification, as most have access to different or more powerful databases to verify that the customer's information is correct.

Organizations have come a long way from filling out a physical form in-person for background checks. Now, citizens can request record checks anytime and from anywhere, providing all kinds of unique information to securely prove their ID.

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