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Public safety and criminal justice are jetting through an unprecedented age of data collection and data availability. We have been quick to collect data, often without a clear strategy on how to use it. Shifting the focus to proactive use of data and continuous improvement can lead to productive change. Law enforcement is primed for a meaningful deployment of insightful technologies to manage the issues that influence multiple critical operational areas. This article explores some possible applications of data and system integration. Some of these concepts already exist, while others require a redeployment of existing technology or new development. Thought exercises such as these will help agencies understand what they are collecting, why they are collecting, and what they are doing with the data collected.
Many management methodologies use a tool called visual management. It is a way to characterize quickly and visually a group’s pursuit of a goal or work outcome. At its most basic, the effort involves a display space, a stated goal or expectation, and a color code for performance. For example, a neighborhood safety program may have a goal of having four meetings a day with community groups and businesses. If the goal is missed, the reason is explored and, if possible, corrected, so it does not influence a future day’s performance. Dashboards can also be useful visual management tools. Regularly reporting on metrics or certain datasets in a visual manner can provide accessible insights on entity operations and issue trends. Currently, several states and a vast number of private companies use visual management on a daily basis to find what is working and what is not.
"Shifting the focus to proactive use of data and continuous improvement can lead to productive change"
A citizen wishing to report vandalism, a theft from the exterior of a residence, a non-injury vehicle collision, or similar incidents have to wait for an available officer to be dispatched to take a report. The timing for this depends on the calls for service queue, the attributes of those calls, and the time needed to resolve them. This can lead to waiting and frustration on the part of citizens. Why not allow the citizen to submit their own reports for certain incidents? Many large insurance companies allow such actions in reporting vehicle accidents and other losses. Police could leverage a similar platform to allow a citizen, for example, to submit a report of vandalism, with photographs and key details. An officer could review the submitted reports and refer them to follow up investigation or link them with other incidents. Perhaps a citizen reporting a claim to an insurance company forward the claim to local police as part of the process. This functionality would save time and more efficiently use resources.
Replacing Written Reports
The technology exists today for officers to dictate reports that automatically link to the computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. Officers no longer need to look at screens or type. Their narratives can be quickly tied to the data-rich CAD entry for the call for service. Such systems should allow for videos and photographs to be uploaded. Paperless reports are faster and leverage system data to avoid duplicated entry of data. The resulting incident report is data-rich, searchable, and efficient.
Could deploying data allow supervisors to manage officer work schedules? Maybe so. Breaks and meals could be assigned as part of the dispatch queue, guaranteeing officers take time for self-care. By monitoring days worked and time since leave time was last used, officers could be encouraged to schedule or take leave time. Using calls for service data, staffing could be arranged to allow officers to rotate off the street for part of their weekly shifts. For example, officers could spend four days a week on the street and have one day a week in the station for paperwork, case follow-up tasks, or training. Depending on the department and call volumes, a half-shift or two half-shifts a week might be more feasible for reports and related tasks.
Leveraging Specialist Networks
Smartphone applications exist that notify CPR-trained citizens of others nearby having a cardiac event and alerts them to the location of automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Why not leverage trained specialist networks for other issues? Think about an app that a responding officer could use to summon nearby social workers or mental health specialists to assist in a call for service until other resources, such as EMTs, arrived. Medical services could also be expanded beyond cardiac issues.
The Path Forward
The future rests on how agencies leverage data to optimize operations. Agencies should carefully review what they collect, why they collect it, and what they do with the collected data. Looking at available data resources, agencies need to think of the insights provided and how these learnings can influence new ways of thinking, managing, and driving meaningful operational improvements.