Gwinn illustrates how not using the police Intranet to disseminate information can hurt a police investigation and shake local confidence in police. Here's his example: An individual in a neighborhood watch in his residential area caught a burglary in progress — on camera. Initially elated by the technology that allowed him to film the burglars, the homeowner's enthusiasm quickly turned to dismay when investigators informed him they did not possess the technology to more closely examine the grainy video of the perpetrator and zero in on the criminal's face.
"Then we had a homeowners' association meeting and it seems like the only guys who did not have a description of the suspect were the ones who attended our meeting," Gwinn. It appeared to homeowners that either the information was not passed on by either the first reporting officer or the investigators — an omission an efficient intranet could have prevented.
"That's a very important disconnection needing to be rectified," he says. "[This type of information sharing] is a very good use of an intranet-style application."
Proprietary information and beyond
Gary Kessler, an associate professor and director of Champlain College's Center for Digital Investigation, sees intranet applications affecting evidence — in both the areas of extraction and storage. "It's put on the network so it can be examined without all of that back and forth," Kessler says. He mentions downloads from cell phone memories, which help develop patterns, as well as social histories.
Kessler says that an intranet system must be completely secured in order to work properly, but when it does work, it can be a real information bonanza for agencies. "What an intranet provides is more convenience combined with more speed and a way to search information much, much more efficiently," he says.
But, Kessler cautions, intranet security must be a primary consideration for in-house IT and management. "It's not like a Yahoo account that you log onto," Kessler says. A breach of an intranet system could not only result in catastrophic repercussions in an agency's criminal investigations, but also shake public confidence and affect an agency's working relationship with other law enforcement agencies.
But law enforcement long ago learned to jealously guard proprietary information. And that's an approach a good intranet that links information systems from agency to agency can help to dispel.
Police have notoriously refused to share information between agencies — it's something every law enforcement officer has witnessed at one time or another, especially when there is an overlapping of jurisdiction that brings two disparate agencies into a case where there is not already a working model for information sharing.
An intranet can help bridge this gap. How? By making information sharing the norm, not the exception. When agencies routinely cooperate with one another in sharing intelligence, the apparatus for doing so is already in place and that makes it easier — and more acceptable — to accomplish.
Around the corner from Kessler, Dep. Chief Mike Schirling of the Burlington (Vermont) Police Department, says his agency's use of the intranet has resulted in numerous benefits, from reducing paper usage to freeing up space that would have once occupied dozens of file cabinets.
"We are entirely paperless," Schirling says of his agency. Using an intranet cuts down on paper research, has turned faxes obsolete and changed forever the way Burlington handles its paperwork. "The originals all go to court and we keep scanned versions," Schirling says about case notes and reports. Meanwhile, the Burlington PD has happily divested itself of the file cabinets it used to use to store reams upon reams of documents.
"We've been donating file cabinets to other city departments," Schirling says, adding that not only new cases, but old, archived ones have been reduced to CD, thus ridding the department of both massive binders and old files.
Other uses for the intranet
Slightly over a decade ago, police considered themselves lucky to match a pawned item against a stolen one by painstakingly combing pawn sheets by hand, or using a manual search function on the computer. Now, officers in the field can use a wireless PDA to connect to their department's intranet and search its database with the touch of a few keys. Here are some other thoughts on intranet use in law enforcement agencies: