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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

The state of policy in law enforcement: Technology takes center stage

It's not a new concept: Policy is the backbone of law enforcement, shaping the way officers keep communities -- and themselves -- safe. Increasingly, policies that govern the use of drones and body-worn cameras, interactions with transgender citizens and other emerging issues have come under increased scrutiny by law enforcement. But with slow growth in law enforcement employment and recruiting challenges at some agencies, finding qualified officers to manage, review and approve these policies can be difficult, according to the recently released  2017 State of Policy in Law Enforcement Report.

Nevertheless, U.S. cities have enjoyed relatively low crime rates over the last quarter-century, according to FBI and Pew Research Center statistics. This paradox is both a testament to the effectiveness of today’s officers and a reminder that now more than ever, law enforcement must do more with fewer resources.

The changing landscape of policy

At a time when law enforcement is under increased scrutiny and demand for accountability is high, how agencies adapt to new and evolving policy is critical. “Policies and procedures direct our officers toward safety and professionalism," Hartford, Conn., Police Department Capt. Jason Thody said. "Though powerful, they become obsolete if not updated or communicated properly.”

The State of Policy report surveyed 343 law enforcement professionals from 46 states across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The results show the majority of respondents agreeing on the need to update policy frequently to protect the community, officers and their agency’s reputation. However, because department resources are minimal and some policy management processes antiquated, only 50 percent of respondents actually follow through to review and distribute policies regularly.

Training also proves to be a challenge. Although 78 percent of agencies reported a need for increased training on policy, data shows that agency budgets are not being adjusted to meet this need. Two-thirds of agencies did not feel they had the funds to conduct appropriate training. As a result, many departments look to extend training dollars by leveraging grant opportunities, combining training classes with nearby agencies as well as spending more time “training the trainer” so they have can conduct in-house training.

The Carmel, Ind., Police Department is one example of an agency looking to meet this need with a technology solution. “We’re looking at new ways to take advantage of online training through a combination of effective facilitation and technology," Carmel Police Department Policy Analyst Mike Dixon said. "We use cloud technology to disseminate videos and attach tests. Officers can view training videos while in patrol cars or at roll call. This cuts down on overtime costs and the need for a facilitator.”

Technology’s role in policy management

While the fundamentals of the day-to-day duties in law enforcement have stayed the same, technology plays a more significant role in the management and roll out of new policies.

Accurate, secure records have always been an essential part of law enforcement, and cloud-based policy management solutions have made it easier for agencies to quickly access, update and disseminate essential documents -- from policies and procedures to reports to training videos. After the nationally publicized Freddie Gray trial, in which five officers were charged in connection with Gray's arrest and death, the Baltimore Police Department recognized the need to improve officers' knowledge of how to respond to various situations and invested in cloud-based policy management software to achieve this. Mobile apps have also been widely adopted by law enforcement agencies so officers can access crucial information on the go.

These aren’t the only technologies law enforcement agencies are adopting to help them effectively introduce new policies. Just last month, the Chicago Police Department rolled out its new use-of-force policy after months of training, which included 3-D simulations that walked officers through active-shooter scenarios so they could better prepare their response.

The future of the policy and technology equation

Leveraging technology to manage an influx of unfamiliar policies may only be one part of the equation, but it is an important one that can decrease the burden on law enforcement agencies nationwide. The stakes have never been higher. Increased demand for accountability and a higher level of community visibility will put added emphasis on policy, training and efficiency for years to come.

Technology, whether in the form of cloud technology or machine learning, is poised to help law enforcement effectively tackle changes stemming from an increasingly information-driven society. The payoff of deploying resilient, efficient and scalable technology in law enforcement is profound. Better outcomes is what we are all after, and technology will make those outcomes more achievable, now and in the future.

About the Author

Josh Brown is the founder and CEO of PowerDMS.

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