5 Considerations for Law Enforcement Technology Planning

Jan. 5, 2024
Understanding the plan and existing technology and knowing how the systems work together within the network allows new applications to become part of the solution.

Starting a new calendar year is a great time to look at your current technology and existing plans for technology growth. Many law enforcement purchases are considered technology, from large-scale projects like two-way radio systems, computer-aided dispatch applications, and digital evidence storage systems to body-worn cameras, license plate readers, and drones. Understanding the plan and the existing technology and knowing how the systems work together within the network allows new applications to become part of the solution. A solution that works best for the agency, the users, and the community.

Begin with a look at the strategic plan to see if your agency is on track or if some items need more focus. Then, review the technology items implemented over the last 12 months and determine if it is working as hoped, if the training was adequate, and if your agency is utilizing the technology to its fullest potential. The community may view agencies that use technology effectively as more transparent. The agency can also be more attractive to potential employees and retention of existing employees. 

Assessing what you have

The first step is listing your technology, what works, and what is not being used. Include the appropriate staff with knowledge of hardware, network, systems, and software. For the technology lists, look at what percentage of your application is used and if any parts are not being used. This is the current big picture to see if technology is in place, what is upcoming, and what is in the agency’s plan. The planning review should also point out any problems with existing systems, such as the duplication of data entry or other aspects that make it unpopular or ineffective.

Cybersecurity and maintenance

This is also an excellent time to check your network status, capability, and hardware. Is your agency using a schedule for upgrades, system patches, and upkeep? Who is responsible for the maintenance and verification of service? What about regular data backups and data storage? Verify the backups and storage capacity. The assessment should also include checking for security updates, outstanding system upgrades, or warranty extensions that may be needed. 

Short-term planning

Any form of planning should include checking the budget. If your agency is mid-year fiscally at the new calendar year, are you at the halfway point of your budget for technology? Are there projects in capital expenditures for the year, and if so, are you on track to complete those projects? This is also a good time to check training records for existing and new technology and verify your hardware, systems, and software maintenance. The review is also a chance to determine if more training is needed on some of the software or if an aspect of the technology is no longer required or should be used differently.

Long-term planning

The next part of the review encompasses the assessment, the cybersecurity and maintenance, and the short-term plan. Take the information learned and determine what upgrades or maintenance may have been overlooked. Look for holes or missing applications that would improve one or more aspects of policing in the community. Are those applications on the long-term plan? If not, should they be added? Consider what technology the neighboring agencies are using and determine if there is an ability to share data or training. Determine if mutual aid agreements, inter-governmental agreements, and other formal (or informal) relationships may benefit from or be hindered by technology decisions.

The next best thing

Keeping an eye on the technology changes through conference attendance, reading updated product reports, and talking to law enforcement equipment vendors can inform your agency of the new technology. Meeting with other agencies also provides ideas and insight into the technology they have, including what works and how they use it. Speaking to staff and those who use the systems and applications will also determine what works and what they don’t use and may even show some potential training gaps or needed policy updates. All of these should be considered when reviewing possible technology additions. 

Technology is the future

Decisions to add new technology need a deep dive into the pros and cons, including the risks and benefits to the agency. Stanford University Law developed a toolkit to determine if emerging technology benefits a department. The toolkit has some great questions to consider when looking to add a new technology component. The responses could also help develop answers beneficial in budget presentations and grant applications. And with the assessments in place, when the new technology sounds like a good fit, it becomes easier to determine the best timeframe within the existing long-term plan.

The future is now

Law enforcement will always need the next great technology. And technology does amazing things that help agencies perform their duties. Not all new technology will benefit each law enforcement agency. Regular technology plan reviews allow your agency to assess whether the new technology fits. Like some field inspections, a technology assessment should be completed annually, with bi-annual reviews, to ensure the agency is on track for the year. 

Technology is quickly becoming one of the mainstays in every part of the world, and law enforcement is no exception. Without long-term planning to include maintenance and upkeep, upgrades to ensure reliability and growth, and planning for integrating new software and hardware to serve your needs and those of your community, your agency may struggle to stay current. Each agency’s technology needs will differ, but each department needs technology to increase safety, solve crimes, provide transparency, and manage employee recruitment and retention. 

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