The Importance of Data Sharing

Sept. 1, 2023
Rather than viewing a large amount of data as cumbersome, integrating data between different systems in a law enforcement agency can improve decision-making, collaboration, productivity, management and planning.

Agencies frequently share criminals who move between geographic boundaries with ease. But sharing data is not quite as easy. Law enforcement databases are often siloed within their agency, with different data entry and database management policies that can make data sharing more difficult. Integrating data from separate systems within the same agency is vital, as data sharing between law enforcement agencies is critical in policing.

Rapid technological changes have increased the number of systems public safety staff must navigate daily during their duties. Management of and policies for data storage, security, retention, and data entry, must be revisited frequently as technology and threats to security evolve. But rather than viewing a large amount of data as cumbersome, integrating data between different systems in the agency can improve decision-making, collaboration, productivity, management, and planning.

Using Data to Support Decision-Making

Law enforcement has long used data to support decisions in administration and investigation. Even in the days of paper reports and logs, recorded details were necessary to solve cases and make the best staffing decisions. Technology today provides a broader view of the data and can integrate the numbers and patterns and use information dashboards and geographic hotspots.

Incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) in facial recognition, license plate reader, and even 9-1-1 communications systems creates another layer of information that should provide a large, integrated database. However, some of this data must be accessed individually. Looking for a person of interest may mean checking several systems and then connecting all the information on that person into one investigative file. Add in other databases like various courts, jails, and neighboring law enforcement records, and that process may not be quick.

Collaboration, Efficiency, and Productivity

One of the benefits of data collection and sharing include collaborating with other agencies to prosecute criminals. Sharing with other agencies can help inform local and regional training programs and provide safety bulletins more quickly between nearby agencies. Data sharing can also create partnerships to apply for grant funding or collaborate to integrate similar systems, such as CAD to CAD data sharing and similar applications.

Another benefit is an increase in efficiency and productivity. Imagine an application dashboard or report-gathering mechanism that pulls the specified data from different agency systems to quickly give users a customized look at the information they need. For field units, that may be configuring the CAD application and mapping to show only their assigned areas. For command staff, the dashboard may include daily statistics, historical analytics, staffing levels, service times, and current calls for service.

Operations Management and Planning

Data integration and sharing between systems can impact operational planning too. Scheduling staffing for planned events could use historical data from previous events to provide an overview of the units needed. Incorporating the information from a training management database would quickly provide a list of personnel with specialized training, should those skills be needed for the event. Adding in the availability of units based on the scheduling program, management can see how many personnel are available and what the staffing costs would be.

Data sharing is also used for planning to determine if staff numbers need to increase or be reallocated to different geographic areas. Historical analysis can also find increases in call types that may require more training and even policy updates. For example, data history may show increased calls for service dealing with mental health situations. That information could lead to updated training, policies, and even new programs or partnerships to improve response and safety.

Data, Data, and More Data

Policing is hard enough without having to search multiple databases for information. Criminals do not limit their law-breaking activity to only one jurisdiction. Yet the public expects police to use technology to quickly access information and solve crimes. That information may be housed in other agencies, courts, corrections, county, state, or Federal databases.

The same public also demands transparency from police and expects the timely release of information. Information that may be sensitive or involved in an investigation or the information may not belong to the agency. Police are continually held to higher standards and expected to use technology as expertly and efficiently as private companies, often without the same funding and opportunities.

Given the benefits of data sharing and system integration, law enforcement must be able to access their own data from each of their systems, even integrating those systems when possible, to bolster decision-making, increase collaboration, efficiency, and productivity, and improve operations management and planning. As technology evolves, data sharing from integrated systems and sharing data across jurisdictions will become more common in law enforcement, and learning to leverage the technology and subsequent data through integration and sharing will be needed not only to increase the safety of police and the community but to move law enforcement agencies forward.

About the Author

Toni Rogers is a freelance writer and former manager of police support services, including communications, records, property and evidence, database and systems management, and building technology. She has a master’s degree in Criminal Justice with certification in Law Enforcement Administration and a master's degree in Digital Audience Strategies.

During her 18-year tenure in law enforcement, Toni was a certified Emergency Number Professional (ENP), earned a Law Enforcement Inspections and Auditing Certification, was certified as a Spillman Application Administrator (database and systems management for computer-aided dispatch and records management), and a certified communications training officer.

Toni now provides content marketing and writing through her company, Eclectic Pearls, LLC, and can be contacted at [email protected]

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