In a 2017 study, the Vera Institute published a study on state-level police reform. They found two goals drove the majority of new laws: increase police confidence and improve police safety. Between 2015 and 2016, "34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, executive orders, or resolutions . . .to change some aspect of policing policy or practice." When looking at the entire data set, researchers identified three outcome categories for the new legislation: "improve policing practices; document police operations; and increase accountability in police use of force cases."
There's an underlying function all agencies must acquire in order to fully comply with these new laws without over-burdening their personnel or exhausting their budgets, and that's the ability to effectively capture officer data. For many police executives in these states, transparent data is rarely a choice. It's now a necessity.
Bringing a Wheelbarrow to the Indy 500
Trying to manage the data requirements of new legislation using legacy methods like spreadsheets and carbon paper is akin to racing the Indy 500 with a wheelbarrow. Even more contemporary systems like Excel falter under sophisticated reporting and redaction demands.
To some degree, this is due to an imbalance between the current reality of public sector IT and the expectations of citizens accustomed to private sector innovation. Outsiders will see any additional oversight as a natural extension of existing policies and reporting. In reality, most agencies are capturing and analyzing data through a variety of home-grown and third-party systems like CAD's and RMS's.
Without a holistic platform in place integrating this software, you end up with data silos that require manual intervention to yield a comprehensive report on agency activity. This disconnect leaves police executives with a massive lift to ensure their agency is compliant without burning out their sworn and civilian personnel.
However, those same expectations, and requirements, of the private sector have also driven down what once were prohibitive costs of enterprise technology. Now companies invest in shifting IT from on-premise to the cloud. As the cost of deploying software from the cloud declines, sophisticated governance and compliance technology is becoming available to police departments at costs affordable on government budgets.
California's SB 1421: The Bearable Lightness of Data
Information that must now be available upon request includes:
- Records related to any incident where a law enforcement officer fired a gun at a person (regardless of whether someone was hit), or used force that resulted in serious injury or death. These records are public whether the department found the officer acted properly or not.
- Records related to incidents where the agency found that an officer committed sexual assault against a member of the public—which includes attempts to coerce sex or proposition sex while on duty.
- Records related to incidents where the agency found that an officer engaged in dishonesty in the investigation, reporting, or prosecution of crime or police misconduct. This kind of dishonesty could include filing a false report, testifying untruthfully, or planting evidence. (Source: ACLU of Southern California)
Many agencies were unprepared for the logistics necessary to comply with SB 1421. What they found was existing systems were incapable of handling the digitization of legacy files (including CDs and floppy disks), of which in many cases, there are entire warehouses. Post-digitization, those agencies are likely looking at terabytes of data to manage, analyze, and scrub for protected data.
California's SB 1421 is likely to become the rule rather than the exception. Which is why police executives across the country are starting to reassess their existing technology stacks, especially in terms of governance, compliance, and risk management.
Software is a force multiplier, allowing you to do more with less while freeing your personnel to work on more valuable projects.
While every agency will derive unique value, here are some of the general benefits agencies realize by adopting previously unavailable technology to comply with new state laws.
Reduce the risk of human error
There's a reason we say that "to err is human." Which is why it's great that software is less fallible than we are. This isn't to say you won't require IT's help to implement technology to support officer data initiatives. But having a system that doesn't need sleep or caffeine to focus will drastically lower the risk you'll lose or disclose critical data.
Cut time spent on repeat processes
One of the best use cases for software is automation. Remember what it was like when you had to dial someone's number? Now you can just tap a contact's name. The same logic plays out in the latest technology. You'll be able to configure any enterprise software to automatically complete your data-related tasks. Whether it's capturing data in real-time or performing analysis on it, software tackles the drudgery, leaving the critical thinking to you and your leadership team.
Offset technical debt
Technical debt is a concept used in engineering, specifically, when choosing the easier way in the near-term creates long-term consequences either known or unknown. According to the experts, there are three types of technical debt: Deliberate, Accidental, and "Bit Rot."
The one most agencies come up against is "Accidental" technical debt. This is usually accidental due to outdated systems or software. If, at some point in your department's history, a decision was made to stick with paper or spreadsheets because the software implementation would be too much in the near-term, then you're likely dealing with accidental technical debt.
By investing in future-oriented technology now, you'll need to bear the effort it'll take to digitize your information, but down the line you'll be more resilient if new legislature requires additional layers of data transparency.
Make existing data actionable
When data is spread across multiple systems, it takes a Herculean effort to make sense of it. You need to pull reports from each one, leaving time to manually reconcile them. Not only does this process require time from your technical personnel (or the resources to bring in third-party data analysts), it's also inherently retrospective. You're never able to see things in real-time, which means your decisions are always based on outdated information. New technology makes it easy to comply with state transparency laws, and it also makes it easy for you to see holistically what's going on in your department.
As more laws like SB 1421 make digitizing historical information mandatory, it's more important than ever before for police executives to understand and embrace new technology. Without it, you and your officers will end up spending more time working on systems instead of working to serve your community.
Interested in learning more? See how cloud technology is helping agencies in California comply with SB 1421 here.