Police investigations are the engine of the criminal justice system. They help investigators build the case in the field and prosecutors make the case in the courtroom. But none of this is possible without the right case management tools. In this post, we’ll look at 3 key features your law enforcement case management software must have.
Before we jump in, let’s back up for a moment. Why does your agency even need law enforcement case management software in the first place? After all, aren’t records management systems (RMS) good enough for most agencies to manage their investigations?
The fact is that while most RMS systems do offer some capability to write supplemental reports that may suffice for minor incidents, they typically do not offer the robust case management tools that are required to run a modern investigative unit charged with complex investigations. This leaves many investigative units to basically fend for themselves and utilize piecemeal solutions that can compromise investigations.
Gone are the days of police tracking investigations on flip charts and recording events in long, written narratives. These methods do not lend themselves to the current age of technology. And if these days are still present for your agency, it’s time to reconsider how you manage your investigations. Whether you have criminal cases, force investigations, internal affairs, gangs or intelligence, today’s modern software solutions can help.
Think about the ever-increasing amount of forensic and digital information available today. Law enforcement investigations must evolve to keep pace with the world around them.
With so much information, investigators need to adopt activity-based techniques that enable the capture of investigative activities in near real-time into a system that organizes these small, manageable pieces into a cohesive digital case folder. That digital case folder can then be used to monitor and track case progress and power analytics. Police case management software is what makes this possible.
The first step for any law enforcement agency is recognizing the need to upgrade their case management system. And even though some agencies may be slow to adopt, moves are constantly being made to boost procurement in the public sector.
So, what key features should your law enforcement case management software have?
Feature #1: Security and Availability
A law enforcement agency’s top priority is often confidentiality. In addition to all of the evidence and data collected, the investigation itself produces volumes of data that need to be securely managed and stored while still remaining accessible for future use.
Mandated confidentiality serves to not only protect the sensitive nature of an ongoing investigation but to also protect the privacy of victims as well as the rights of those accused.
Of course, the security of this sensitive data is a natural concern for police. Luckily, technology has matured so much that cloud-based solutions have now become an easy choice compared to conventional on-premise hosted solutions.
Despite common misconceptions, a properly managed cloud-based solution can actually prove to be more secure, reliable, and accessible for police departments than an on-premise solution.
Of course, it’s natural to feel that an on-premise solution is secure since you physically have it in your possession. However, threats are not physical anymore. It’s much more likely that your system will be subjected to a cyber-attack than to someone causing physical damage. The truth is that today’s major cloud providers who host environments that are approved for government agencies in the U.S. have more cutting-edge cyber-defenses available than most law enforcement agencies could ever hope to afford on their own.
When it comes to hosting case management systems or other criminal justice-related information on the cloud, there should no longer really be much debate: of course, an agency must be diligent to ensure their hosting is in a highly secure environment specifically designed for law enforcement and in compliance with CJIS standards. But with the advent of the government cloud, these solutions are now readily available and are being used every day by progressive-minded agencies. In many cases, the security and redundancy provided are much greater than what was available (or affordable) when the systems were hosted on-premise.
Lastly, your police investigation software should be accessible 24/7 on any authorized device – desktop, laptop and mobile. With a cloud-based solution, you can access case folders and investigative information anywhere, so the investigation doesn’t stop when you’re out of the squad room.
Feature #2: Collaboration Tools
Technology has made it easier to collaborate on just about everything these days. But it’s also made it easier for information to slip into silos, preventing the sharing of valuable data.
Your police investigation software should focus on removing silos and bringing your agency together.
For example, the software should allow supervisors to assign tasks to the investigative team for follow-up. They should be able to share case folders between work units with the click of a button. Senior management should also be able to access data on various types of investigations from a single application.
Law enforcement agencies investigate many different types of matters, not just crimes. But having separate applications to handle each different type of matter, such as criminal investigations, internal investigations, intelligence investigations, gangs or confidential informants can lead to information silos that hamper the overall mission and effectiveness of the agency.
Take note, however – security should never be undermined to make collaboration easier. The software should allow system administrators to dictate who has access to what data compartments and documents within a case. This prevents data breaches without stopping an investigation in its tracks due to security concerns.
To enable collaboration, the software needs to have intuitive workflows that keep everyone organized and, ultimately, helps the law enforcement agency function more efficiently.
Feature #3: Pre-Configured Documents
Modern police investigations should leverage mobile-friendly applications that can capture information via activity-based reporting.
In this type of system, information is entered into the case management system by investigators contemporaneously while in the field. As the team collaborates on an investigation, they are all kept apprised of ongoing developments via the application and near real-time reporting that the team members are participating in. In the process, the case gets broken down into small, manageable pieces, resulting in more efficiently-run investigations.
In order to practically capture information in the field, the investigator needs access to a secure system that can capture images and video as well as structured data that can power analytics. Investigative supplemental entry forms designed to report on a specific activity that investigators frequently engage in, such as interviews or witness canvassing, are key to capturing complete and thorough data quickly.
Using pre-configured entry documents helps investigators save time and ensure the right steps are taken in the course of an investigation. A chronological index of documents in a case folder can show you at a glance exactly which actions have been completed in the investigation and what is outstanding without having to read the narratives of each worksheet.
Effective software saves you time with quick lookup tools (instead of flipping through pages and pages of your case notebook). Pre-configured documents do this by automatically populating repeat information onto supplemental documents.
Lastly, pre-configured worksheets make review and approvals easier for supervisors – this means the case can stay courtroom-ready once it’s closed.
The Right Law Enforcement Case Management Software
Properly managing an investigation is mission-critical. Humans are error-prone. Even the hardest working investigators need a system to manage complex cases and avoid information slipping through the cracks. This is why more law enforcement agencies are adopting case management software that’s secure, accessible, collaborative and activity-based.
Need help managing investigative casework? Learn more about ShotSpotter Investigate, a smarter, proven approach to case management.
About the Author: Michael Cunningham has more than 27 years of experience with the New York City Police Department and achieved the rank of Detective First Grade. He is now part of the ShotSpotter Investigate case management team and stays active in the industry instructing courses in forensics and response to terrorist incidents.