These features and benefits are all non-negotiable when it comes to selecting case management software for your law enforcement agency.
Effective case management requires an enormous amount of organization. From reporting an incident to coordinating all aspects of an investigation, intelligence and evidence management, staying on top of the information in all the unique data entry systems can be a full-time job. However, well-ordered data is critical to ensure nothing gets missed, which could potentially compromise the case.
A basic records management system (RMS) is certainly easier to keep track of (and less cumbersome) than paper files, but it still isn’t a perfect solution. Many systems don’t promote comprehensive case management or information sharing, meaning investigators need to access multiple systems to compile all relevant details, which is extremely time-consuming.
For example – if in the course of a robbery investigation a lab creates forensic data by uploading results identifying a suspect but it can’t be accessed in the field, that data instantly loses value. Another possibility is two investigators working a string of burglaries in two different areas that are actually related, but without information sharing, establishing a pattern between similar cases is not guaranteed.
The system should also support different types of state reporting requirements beyond summary based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR). The national trend towards National Incident-Based Reporting (NIBRS) is more detail oriented and requires a much more structured model in order to be efficient. While it may not be mandatory yet, it will be by January 1, 2021, and pre-equipping your department with the necessary tools to meet these standards now can save a lot of time and hassle in the future.
Deciding to implement a new and improved system is only the beginning. Ahead, we’ll highlight six questions you should always ask before deciding on record and case management software:
#1 Does it offer web-based delivery?
Since investigators aren’t always (or even typically) just sitting at their desks, your software should grant access to information from anywhere, and should deliver that accessibility from any device that can access the Internet. That way, investigators on the scene can quickly input or access data without missing a beat. When systems don’t have interoperability and lack centralized databases, users and managers may not have access to the data they need when and where they need it.
#2 Does it have customizable entry forms?
Customized entry forms allow you to use fields how you want in the order you want them to appear. While one agency may call the incident burglary, another could instead call the same thing breaking and entering. Custom fields give you the flexibility to reference incidents in the lingo your users are familiar with. It also allows the agency to assign particularly important fields as KPIs (key performance indicators), which helps with future reporting.
#3 Does it offer cloud-based computing?
Many departments are resistant to cloud-based computing because they feel it could compromise security, or will not meet requirements for criminal justice information systems (CJIS). In fact the opposite is true. While not all cloud solutions will meet the needs of law enforcement there are secure solutions that are designed specifically to meet the requirements. Indeed these solutions are already in use by about 20 percent of US law enforcement agencies. Cloud computing can actually enhance security and help ensure compliance. When approached properly, it’s the most efficient and flexible way to manage data – even sensitive data.
Also, with a software as a service (SaaS) model, your agency doesn’t incur cost of maintenance and doesn’t have to worry about software installation and updates. You can easily scale and increase the number of subscriptions as needed and bring in additional units for big cases.
#4 Can you easily organize, upload and retrieve electronic files?
When investigative information comes in all forms, it’s vital to have a method of storing it all together in one place, regardless of what type of file it is. These can include anything from surveillance videos and images to facial recognition files.
Beyond just storing multiple types of data in one place, integrated records and case management solutions offer complete system integration, so you can access all media assets from related case files. A single point of data entry helps ensure data quality and there’s no need to log into multiple systems to access the different components – everything you need is organized and easily accessible.
#5 Does it have advanced searching and reporting capabilities?
Most systems for investigations start with a 911 call and may lead to a crime report. If the incident requires follow up, that information is often attached in text form as a supplement to the incident report. The problem with this system is that if you need to find information later, it requires text searching, and it’s very easy to miss important details.
In a more robust system that’s built around the concept of structured data, pre-set form fields record information, creating the ability to search and report on that data in an endless amount of ways. This structured approach documents where incidents occur, what time of day, method of operation, weapon information, etc., and then analysis can be performed to establish patterns and links that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Structured data is what powers modern intelligence-led policing – or predictive policing.
#6 Does it integrate property and evidence information?
Maintaining evidence inventories and property rooms presents a tremendous challenge and a potential liability for law enforcement agencies. While you may have an existing system for entering property and evidence, it’s imperative that this system be linked to the larger record and case management system. That way property managers can keep informed of what evidence is still needed for open investigations. If a case is closed, they can disposition the evidence related to that case.
Choosing the right case management software can help your department function more efficiently. The system you choose should be able to expand from first responder based incident reporting to complete case management capabilities. It should incorporate specialized module components for unique investigation types including gang investigations, internal affairs, use of force investigations, domestic violence, intelligence, tips and leads.
Now matter how big or small your department, integrated record and case management software can help solve a lot of common issues by making all relevant case information instantly accessible to everyone who needs to see it. NIBRS and mandatory use of force reporting may not be a requirement yet, but it could be in the future, and having systems in place prior to these new regulations makes a whole lot of sense. Keep potential new reporting requirements in mind and choose the most future-proof case management software now and you’ll always be ahead of the curve.
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.