Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Kevin Taylor, business development manager of smart cities at Axis Communications, Inc.
Understaffed and overworked is a common condition, even among police departments. It’s impossible to overstate the impact that combating crime, building rapport with residents and improving public safety can have on quality of life in a community. Unfortunately, in a typical shift, most officers lose time available to perform these critical tasks due to duplicated efforts and administrative responsibilities.
When I recently attended Smart Cities Week, I was impressed to see most speakers and the key takeaways presented by the council, focused on people, promises and trust. With those takeaways in mind, let’s view them through the lens of modern policing and public safety, and how technology can be a strategic tool to support these principles.
People: Fostering a better quality of life
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs cites safety as a foundational requirement of survival, second only to physiological needs (food, water, warmth and rest). Without a basic sense of safety and security, individual and community quality of life suffers. This is most evident in neighborhoods where crime rates are high and police officers are less visible.
But what about a police officer’s quality of life? Most choose their public safety career path because they feel called to protect others. Generally, the men and women in blue I’ve met seem to have an innate talent for connecting with community and fostering in others a sense of security. From a human resource perspective, civic engagement is what makes them happiest, most fulfilled and most productive.
Pulling officers away from these community interaction opportunities undermines their performance and negatively impacts public safety. Hours spent collecting information and filling out paperwork means less time on valuable community outreach. Imagine if we could leverage technology to streamline those tasks, giving officers more time for proactive interactions with the community to build rapport and foster trust.
Promises: Keeping one’s word to the community
Most police departments openly share their mission statement and core values. The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) for instance, says its mission is to "provide professional police services to the public in order to maintain order and protect life and property." But like any police department, to deliver on that promise they need resources.
After a comprehensive assessment by the Department of Homeland Security (DHL), it became evident the city needed a new approach. DHL recommend that a city of New Orleans’ population, crime rate, etc. should have a police force of 1,600 officers. Given that the city currently has approximately 1,100 officers and is under budgetary pressures to reduce that, proposing any increase in ranks was out of the question. The only alternative would be to provide tools that help their current personnel to be more efficient.
NOPD turned its focus to time-saving procedures they could institute that would give hours back to officers so they could accomplish more in a given day. Their top priority was to streamline the flow of information to the field so officers could avoid duplicating fact-finding and reporting tasks when the information needed already existed in the system.
Trust: Building relationships
An essential goal of police work is to foster trust with the community. But how do we measure that? How can we know if it is increasing or decreasing over time? Many relate trust to a person in a position of vulnerability being able to predict how another person will act in certain situations. It’s easy to see how trust is a driver in one’s decision to call 911.
Ideally the foundation for that trust is already set through civic engagement before the critical moment when emergency response is needed. While technology in and of itself cannot create this foundation, it can help facilitate the building of trust by freeing officers to spend more time engaging with the community on a more personal level.
Trust builds over time, but oftentimes it’s simply a matter of being present. The more visible police officers are in their community, the more the community at large will trust the department to live up to its mission statement promise, especially when seconds matter most. Without visibility and an honest and sincere engagement between the police and the community, skepticism, distrust, and even hostility will prevail.
New Orleans’ approach to public safety
New Orleans faced a 500-officer disparity between what was recommended and what they actually had. Their solution was to implement a plan that supports these principles of people, promises and trust, effectively enabling them to do more with less.
Through a public-private partnership, the city built a Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) and deployed infrastructure and technology throughout high crime rate areas. The end points, primarily surveillance cameras, feed back to the RTCC to provide officers greater situational awareness of activity throughout the city and help them perform their duties more efficiently and effectively. The integration of technology has enabled the police department to give time back to each officer so they can spend more of their on-duty time in active community engagement.
By expediting the flow of information through the RTCC, NOPD is able to significantly increase officer efficiency. When a call comes into the 911 center, the notes of the call are pushed to an operator at the RTCC along with video feeds from cameras identified within their Geospatial Information System (GIS) as being in close proximity to the reported incident location. The NOPD’s new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) platform allows the RTCC operator to efficiently deliver this data to the responding officer so his approach to the scene can be more strategic. For instance, if a person of interest in a blue shirt reportedly fled the scene eastbound, the officer now knows to approach from that direction and be on the lookout for a person of that description.
Once the officer arrives on scene, communication continues between the officer and the RTCC operator so that the officer can focus on collecting new information. Previous to the RTCC the officer often spent a lot of time gathering information already provided to the 911 operator but not transferred through an efficient workflow.
Finally, all details of the incident — inbound 911 call recording, video evidence from related devices, notes from evidence gathered at the scene, officer body-worn camera data, and any other details of the event — are linked for easy access via a case file management system. The efficiencies gained for each officer result in new-found time that each office can invest in proactive community engagement, bringing officers back to the part of their job that they most desire to perform with passion.
Focusing on what matters most
The goal should always be to improve the quality of life and the quality of services delivered to every member of the community. If police departments maintain a laser focus on people, promises and trust, strategically deployed technology can be an integral tool in reaching the goals that matter most.