Remember that old game of telephone, where one kid would whisper something to the next, who would turn around and whisper it to the next one in line? Down the row the secret went, from one ear to another, until it reached the last child, who would then announce, for all to hear, what he or she had been told. Remember how the message you ended up with was a distant relative of the one you began with, often bearing little, if any, resemblance to the original?
That's what can happen when too many ears get involved. The same holds true for law enforcement agencies when it comes to the hardcopy reports, cases, documents and files they contend with on a daily basis. It's not so much that the data they contain is changed -- although the likelihood of data entry errors certainly increases as reports are passed from hand to hand for data entry, revisions and so on. But there is ample opportunity for hardcopy materials to wander far from home, sometimes permanently, as they travel around to various departments and people both inside and outside the agency.
Electronic record management systems (RMS) and data sharing software programs are a boon to law enforcement agencies and to those who need access to the information they collect. They solve the age-old "telephone" problem, and agencies using these programs report this software saves them manpower; time; reduces the costs associated with hardcopy such as paper, ink and courier costs; improves accuracy and eliminates misfiling. But even more important, these programs enhance the collecting and sharing of essential intelligence, keeping officers safer and enabling them to serve their communities more effectively.
Automating reporting and info sharing
The Lincoln (Nebraska) Police Department uses a "homegrown" system built in a relational database and has added various functions to this database, explains Chief Tom Casady. The department's system integrates with a number of other software products, the biggest of which is the State of Nebraska judicial administrative software used by all 93 counties. The Lincoln PD's fully featured RBS, which it has been building on since 1978, includes case files, dispatch records, investigative reports, property and evidence management, personnel records and intelligence management, etc. Casady says, thanks to this system, he has not gone to the counter to retrieve hardcopy records in ages.
The agency is constantly adding to the system, and such updates occur quickly, Casady says. "Last week I told my IT staff I'd like to get more business contact information from the fire department, and that I'd like to have our officers be able to access this in a Web-based format," he says. "I asked for this in the morning and I had it by 10 a.m."
Nebraska also recently passed a law allowing citizens to obtain concealed weapons permits for handguns. Casady wanted to see who would be carrying concealed weapons, so he obtained this information from the Nebraska State Patrol, the agency issuing these permits. This data is now available in the agency's main database, he says.
The Rochester (New York) Police Department went to an automated field reporting system last April, says Capt. Tony Perez. Department officials decided to add this system after they saw the success another local agency was having with it.
The transition involved equipping around 160 vehicles with laptops, installing several wireless hotspots around the city, and training approximately 900 sworn and civilian personnel.
Now officers prepare reports in the field, which are automatically sent off (once the vehicle hits a hotspot) to a supervisor, who either accepts or rejects the report. If approved, the report is electronically sent to the IS unit, which validates and accepts it for accuracy. Then, it's transmitted to the main database.