Data challenges in law enforcement

The process of identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting criminals is hard enough without dealing with roach motels of data—individual systems, applications, and data sources where data goes in but you can’t get it out. Law enforcement...


The process of identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting criminals is hard enough without dealing with roach motels of data—individual systems, applications, and data sources where data goes in but you can’t get it out. Law enforcement professionals shouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops.

I’ve been working with organizations and individuals in law enforcement (as well as national and homeland security and other agencies involved in catching bad guys) since shortly after 9-11, and I’ve never once had someone tell me how much they love their Records Management System (RMS) (or most any other technology product their organization has purchased). Instead, I’ve heard—and seen—one example after another of how hard it is just to track down the information you need (since it’s usually in multiple systems that are difficult to search), let alone quickly combine it in a useful way to get the insights you need.

Criminal investigators and analysts need quicker and more accurate searching and querying across data sources (RMS, Computer Aided Dispatch [CAD], gang or other intelligence databases, case files, Field Interview cards, link charts, emails, Suspicious Activity Reports [SARs], FBI databases like ViCAP and NCIC, homeland security bulletins, Internet/open source-Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, Google, etc.) to identify leads, support investigative and intelligence activities, identify hot spots of activity, find patterns and trends across criminal incidents, etc. As part of this, it’s important to be able to look at information geospatially and temporally, and find links and associations across all your data.

You need access to all your data across silos, including all the good stuff that’s in the text/report narrative. Missing data can mean the difference between catching the bad guy or not. And, you need real-time processing on all your information; there’s no time to wait for IT to write a report to get data out of your RMS, or utilize pre-canned reports that give you information that might be a month old, or remember that there was some email you got a month ago with a notice to look out for the same type of suspicious activity you’re observing right now. You need to be able to immediately incorporate and utilize new information to help catch the bad guys faster. And, you need a way to share information securely with other departments or agencies, while ensuring civil liberties and privacy are protected.

So, is this even possible? One of the things I’ve often seen is a mismatch between what a software vendor says they will provide, and what the customers think they are getting. Don’t get me wrong, I believe most vendors are honest, but the English language often leaves vast grey areas ripe for misinterpretation. I recommend that you press your vendors for specific details on capabilities. Ideally they will be able to show you versus just tell you, to ensure everyone’s on the same page regarding what will be delivered.

In particular, 12 things you should ask about when evaluating technology are:

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