Inside a law enforcement intranet

     Deputies, officers, clerks and volunteers all seem to have the same two questions when it comes to law enforcement paperwork. The first is, "Where do I find that form?" Which is immediately followed by, "Is this the most recent version of that...

     Deputies, officers, clerks and volunteers all seem to have the same two questions when it comes to law enforcement paperwork. The first is, "Where do I find that form?" Which is immediately followed by, "Is this the most recent version of that form?"

     Law enforcement agencies face increasing amounts of communications clutter and must compile and store a large amount of data. Forms, manuals, job announcements and executive memos need to be made available to staff at all levels and in all locations, and this can pose a variety of challenges. Many police and sheriffs' offices, for example, have satellite offices within their jurisdictions, and distances between those offices can span 10 or more miles.

     To manage information and promote communication, many agencies make a network drive available and fill it with a variety of folders and sub-folders. This means the material is stored and accessible to an employee, yes. But the computerized storage system often ends up doing nothing more than forcing the employee to spend an inordinate amount of time looking through virtual forms or manuals only to find that the document he or she needs is out of date.

     An intranet — a Web site inside a department firewall which serves the mission of the department and is not available to the public — can make these sorts of problems disappear. As a bonus, an intranet can be an ideal solution for departments in search of the cost-effective key to better intradepartmental communication.

How we did it

     One example of the many ways in which an intranet can streamline communications and manage information better can be seen in the experience of the Office of the Sheriff of Contra Costa County. Located east of San Francisco, Contra Costa County is 733 square miles of varying terrain and includes both flat and mountainous terrain. More than 680 sworn and 300 non-sworn employees staff the sheriff's department at more than 10 office locations throughout the county.

     In May 2007, Sheriff Warren Rupf asked Undersheriff George Lawrence to conduct a departmental communications survey because e-mail and FAX were proving to be ineffective due to staff rotations and work site changes. The core questions to address were:

  • How well do we communicate?
  • How can we communicate better?

     An overwhelming majority of the 710 returned responses suggested an intranet.

     The sheriff requested an analysis of the survey results, and an executive summary and slide presentation were created and presented to the department's executive group. The presentation endorsed the development and deployment of a departmental intranet, with a 60- to 90-day project timeline. The sheriff and executive group recognized the communications potential of an intranet and gave the project a green light.

     At the time of that presentation, I had been assigned to the Patrol Division but was temporarily re-assigned to the Technical Services Division from October 1, 2007 through January 5, 2008, to be the project manager and develop the intranet. Our Technical Advisory Committee provided constructive input into layout, functionality and content.

     My first task was to develop a project plan and define the project scope. Without a scope, a project can develop a mind of its many contributors and mushroom beyond control. This was done by using a project application that breaks down individual tasks and sub-tasks, while providing a Gantt chart to provide a visual representation of the project development. Steps included in the project scope were:

  • Create an intranet development and deployment strategy with existing resources.
  • Create a one-stop shop where employees can access information.
  • Define a project timeline and task list.
  • Identify effective content layout.
  • Research existing intranets used in law enforcement.
  • Develop a plan for editing and adding content.
  • Develop a plan for ongoing server-maintenance and support.
  • Develop an editor training plan.
  • Research and plan for risk management.
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