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October 16, 2017
From products to platforms in law enforcement
By: Jody Weis

Thanks to television shows like “Hawaii Five-0” or “24,” many people believe that law enforcement has amazing, integrated systems that pull data from everywhere and send it to the officers on the street via a smart phone or tablet. Sadly, this story-line has not translated from screen to reality. Most law enforcement agencies’ IT systems today are a collection of separate applications with little integration, and they lack the power that can transform raw information into real Intelligence.

What is keeping public safety from moving to the new? Law enforcement CIOs face the monumental task of keeping all systems and networks running smoothly. As needs arise, the standard response is to find a product to solve the problem as soon as possible. Implementing said product is often a lengthy process that may involve multiple procurements, layers of approval and funding challenges. Meanwhile, there is little thought given as to how this new application will integrate with existing systems to provide a more complete view of the department’s data, and actually make better use of existing systems. Then, by the time the solution is installed, the technology may be outdated—even obsolete.

I believe that this mindset of thinking about individual products that satisfy a specific need has hindered police departments from developing strategies that position the organization for the future. Technology is changing every day. If leaders don’t change their mindsets about technology, they risk missing opportunities to adopt innovation that can fundamentally transform policing work.

Seeing the possibilities

Let’s talk about this for a minute. When data is integrated from both internal and external systems (such as RMS, CAD, body worn cameras, courts, social media, and other city departments, to name only a few) and aggregated onto a platform with additional datasets, now we have an environment conducive to analytics. Custom analytic solutions, to include AI and machine learning, can be applied to this “platform” of data, and give responding officers a never-before seen level of situational awareness. Officers can be armed with all available information specific to a location, or person, before arriving on the scene. Police work is dangerous and unfortunately, sometimes deadly. Knowing everything you can beforehand can be the difference between life and death.

Let’s look at this in relatively simple terms—identity management. A police officer needs to know who he or she is dealing with as quickly as possible. Giving them this information before arriving at a location offers a clear tactical edge. Most times, a driver’s license is what the officer relies upon to identify the driver. But what happens when the driver doesn’t have a license—not an uncommon occurrence? If the department has built a fully integrated public safety platform, the officer can simply take a picture of the driver, upload it, and the image can be run against all of the department systems to quickly identify the person and learn if he or she has any criminal history. No expensive fingerprint readers are needed, no transporting the person to the district to identify them—the issue of identifying the driver is handled on the street.

Another factor to consider is the volume of data … there is simply too much data to be analyzed by humans. By having an integrated public safety platform, all of the available data can be aggregated by advanced analytics. Of course, the human element will never be replaced but using analytics to at least reduce the size of the haystack will make finding the proverbial needle much easier. And remember, the various algorithms, do not take furlough, go on coffee breaks, or discuss who won last night’s baseball game. They are on guard 24/7/365.

Another advantage a platform-approach offers is the ability to create what-if scenarios. Besides being aware of a potential problem, with the right application, decisions can be projected and their consequences understood before taking any action, allowing leaders to pick the best solution for the problem on-hand.

Leading edge for the long term

To be successful in their missions, law enforcement organizations need the latest and greatest tools at their fingertips. Platforms make this possible. As new technology reaches the market, those breakthrough technologies can be plugged in immediately. High-tech equipment can be added as needed. Departments gain the power to alleviate storage issues, as information can be stored securely in the cloud. And best of all, there is only one vendor needed to procure and deliver such a solution—one throat to choke, if you will, if there is a failure in delivery.

The path to platforms may be different for each department, but there are some pertinent steps for all to consider:

  • Work with others. Involve collaborators, such as cities, states, the private sector and academic world—leaders who have integrated IT systems can share best practices and are equipped to illustrate the way forward.

  • Develop a strategy. Change won’t happen overnight—and it doesn’t need to. Platforms can be built over time. Prioritize where to make changes first, and determine the right method for doing so, for instance on-premises vs. a cloud approach.

  • Look to the future. Think about what your organization needs to be the best it can be. Technology is the future, but don’t limit your future options with today’s standalone applications. They will be obsolete tomorrow.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What will the IT future look like for your organization?

See this post on LinkedIn: From products to platforms in law enforcement.

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