Law enforcement officials say social media is key for both outreach and investigatory purposes, a recent survey shows.
Technology changes rapidly, leaving many law enforcement executives feeling overwhelmed by maintaining their core policing mission in the face of increasing complexities of data management. It may simply be the nature of government, speed of technological development or perhaps buying processes and other factors that hamper the agility of retooling public agencies.
But what do police leaders themselves think are the most urgent technological issues they face, and how do they rate their performance as it pertains to those issues? To find out, we asked a sampling of public safety executives at the recent International Association of Chiefs of Police conference to prioritize five areas related to digital data and management of assets.
Here are the results of what they said (in order of priority):
- Social media management
- Video capture from body-worn, in-car and surveillance cameras
- Information management modernization
- Other digital technologies, such as facial recognition, license plate readers, etc.
- Cybercrime investigative ability
At first, it may seem surprising that about a third of police leaders felt social media was the most important priority on the list. But consider this: The global citizen advocacy group We Are Social believes more than 29 percent of the world’s population has some form of social media account, while the Pew Research Center puts the number at nearly two-thirds of U.S. citizens. Law enforcement seems to realize use of social media, for both outreach and investigatory purposes, is a tool they can’t do without.
Despite the importance of social media to the police, most law enforcement officials rate themselves in the middle range with regard to social media savvy. According to the survey, 44 percent of respondents rated their agencies as only “fair” when it came to effectively using social media to maintain situational awareness. Fewer than one in 10 thought their departments had an excellent understanding of social media, with about one-third rating themselves as “good,” and 11 percent seeing their social media use as “poor.”
After social media, increasing police video capture capabilities from body-worn camera programs was the second highest IT priority for law enforcement executives. This would also include the expansion or creation of in-car cameras programs, fixed-camera systems or other means of gathering visual media. Three-quarters of respondents said the collection of all digital imagery into a single repository or management solution was something they were actively pursuing.
Next on the list was the modernization of information management, including the way reports are collected, investigations are managed and other records are gathered, shared or made visible. Almost 56 percent of participants reported they intended to streamline or improve the way they handled information, with approximately 14 percent saying they wouldn’t be putting any significant effort into transforming the flow of data.
Adding newer technologies such as advanced facial recognition was a lower priority, with only 18 percent of police officials believing it would be an important IT spend. The least urgent of the five items polled was cybercrime investigative capability, with only 9 percent of respondents giving it precedence. While anecdotal, this may be because a vast number of cybercrimes are unreported as well as because the global nature of cybercrime makes it a difficult issue for local law enforcement to address.
The lesson we pull from this survey is that law enforcement executives view themselves as keepers, consumers and aggregators of data critical to their missions. While they recognize that tools like social media are here to stay, they also recognize that they have much work to do to fully integrate their potential.