Sharing the data

Records management and data sharing goes electronic

     Officers are able to enter information in the field, which is then downloaded into the main database when they return at the end of their shifts. Currently, a wireless system is being installed throughout the county and when ready, this system will go real time, says Coldiron, adding that the department recently installed a 4.9 wireless connection between the agency, the courthouse, city hall, and police and fire departments. This connection allows these agencies to tap into each organization's database.

     Other agencies are poised to cash in on the advantages data sharing confers. For example, the Hartford (Connecticut) Police Department is currently transitioning to a browser-based RMS solution, says Sgt. Andrew Jaffee. This is a joint effort between the Hartford, New Britain and Bridgeport police departments. These agencies, says Jaffee, will be sharing one unified RMS platform.

     "The entire platform will be queried by any of the three agencies, unless designated sensitive," he explains. "All the elements of a criminal justice management system will be available and shared."

     The impetus for this effort was federal funding the state received, which was meant to encourage larger municipalities, these three agencies among them, to participate in NIBRS, Jaffee says.

     The Hartford PD has not yet rolled out mobile field reporting, though this will be part of the final program. They have laptops in every vehicle and participate in a regional mobile data application. There is some element of data sharing (such as "be on the lookout for this stolen vehicle") but it's not the same as mobile incident reporting, Jaffee says. Also at this point, there is no electronic means of sharing data between the agency and other city/legal entities; it's all hardcopy.

     "We do have a pending application with the COPS Office in the Department of Justice to facilitate electronic sharing through the development of a software application that would allow for this," Jaffee adds. "But all this is pending the award of that application."

Shopping for RMS
     What should an agency look for when shopping for an RMS system? Pam Lutzinger, information systems manager with the City of Fremont (California) Police Department, says the ability to access these systems from the field is a "must," so agencies should look for those that utilize wireless technology.

     "Sharing the data requires either data warehousing at a central location or a pointer system that connects the users to data in other systems," says Lutzinger. "We are able to create a view of our shared data, the county then points other authenticated users to that rather than to our production data."

     Her agency uses a suite of programs, such as automated field reporting, RMS and a corrections management system, to capture arrest and booking information entered at the jail. This latter report feeds into the agency's automated report system, as well as to the country booking/court system, and other ancillary modules such as document imaging and a police reporting system that allows citizens to input their own property crimes reports.

     Casady warns proprietary software create headaches for agencies, since this software may not be capable of interfacing with other software systems. It also makes agencies completely reliant on that vendor for upgrades, add-ons and changes. If they're not willing, agencies could have major problems in adapting, he says.

     "We look for how easy it will be to build on," he says. "I don't want my officers to have to use additional software to look up mugshots, for example. I want this feature integrated into our system. We look for things that are open-architecture enough that we can interface with them."

     Coldiron recommends asking the software vendor about who is involved in creating their programs.

     "Companies that build software for law enforcement often have retired or past law enforcement officers working for them to build these programs," he says. "Who better to know law enforcement's needs? Ask the company if they have anyone who is or previously was in law enforcement writing any of these programs. Each agency may do things a little differently, but the bottom line is we are all here to do the same job."

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, California. She specializes in writing about public safety issues.

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