Police records management systems (RMS) are generally designed with one thing in mind: record criminal incidents in compliant reports. Many providers do this well. But when those incidents develop into major cases, the extent of an RMS’ functionality may not meet the needs of the investigative unit.
Law enforcement’s job goes beyond simply taking reports. What about the investigation, collaboration across units and other mission-critical tasks? Many departments are trying to use RMS to do these things and falling short in the process. Let’s take a look at what RMS really is – and isn’t – and how a case management platform can help fill in the gaps.
What is an RMS?
“An agency-wide system that provides for the storage, retrieval, retention, manipulation, archiving and viewing of information, records, documents or files pertaining to law enforcement operations. RMS covers the entire life span of records development—from the initial generation to its completion. An effective RMS allows single entry of data, while supporting multiple reporting mechanisms.”
From this definition, you can see that RMS is primarily about the reporting functionality. This isn’t a bad thing – reporting is critical for a number of reasons.
Why Reporting Matters
Police departments have to record incidents to be aware of what’s going on in their jurisdiction. They can use these records to inform strategies for follow up and to fight specific types or patterns of crime. Citizens need these reports for legal documentation and to refer to insurance companies. But the real necessity is that police departments are required to report crime up the chain, from the local level to the county, state and national level—and from that, crime rates and trends can be derived.
How Police Record Management Systems Have Evolved
In the past, many agencies did all of this on paper. They kept ledgers with incident numbers and dates, counting incidents through the year and using this record to create reports and track crime.
Over time, paper-based systems became unmanageable even for the smallest police departments. In today’s day and age, it’s impossible to maintain compliant incident report systems without some sort of electronic RMS.
The problem is that since they were originally invented, these electronic police records management systems have barely changed. In fact, some of the original systems that were adopted by police agencies have only been updated when it was mandated due to changes in data submission requirements of the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Even today, although there have been some improvements in data collection, the functionality remains the same in many legacy systems.
But that’s only the first part of the problem.
What RMS Doesn’t Do
More and more RMS providers claim new features and functionality, including case management. But are agencies actually running their narcotics operations, homicide cases, or managing intelligence or confidential informant records in their RMS? No.
The investigative features that have been bolted on to some RMS systems have proven to be a bit lackluster for demanding case management tasks. Instead, many investigative units within police agencies are still using paper case folders or home-grown systems for their important case management work.
Case in point: In a 2019 report, Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) identified that Chicago PD’s RMS was not well suited for the case management functionality that they would need to improve clearance rates.
With that said, let’s take a look at case management and how it’s different from RMS.
What is Case Management Software?
Case management software provides the tools law enforcement needs to run a modern investigative unit and resolve cases efficiently.
No matter how big or small your department, case management software can help solve a lot of common issues by making all relevant case information accessible to everyone who needs to see it while securing it from those who don’t. Whether you have criminal cases, excessive force investigations, internal affairs, gang incidents or intelligence needs, today’s modern software solutions can help law enforcement keep pace with the world around them.
How Case Management Fills in the Gaps
Police records management systems simply do not offer the robust case management features that are required to manage the full lifecycle of an incident, once the initial report has been submitted to the case being courtroom-ready.
The incident comes first. RMS allows you to record and report on them. But case management is about the next steps that have to be taken. Following up and balancing case loads. Reviewing and clearing cases. Collaborating and running down leads. Staying in compliance throughout the process. This is what RMS systems are missing.
Police departments with case management have a much better clearance rate than those without. This is because a lack of case management software leads to huge inefficiencies. So, there is no clean and verifiable way to track case progress and to quickly see what investigative steps have been completed versus what still needs to get done in order to clear a case.
Top Case Management Features
The right case management software includes features that support:
- Incident level reporting. Agencies can capture information from patrol encounters, criminal events and citizen tips & leads in one central platform.
- Investigation management. Police can leverage highly functional digital case files, and assign, collaborate, and monitor complex casework. This takes incident reporting to the next step—something RMS can’t do.
- Other operations and mission needs. Agencies can manage more than just an investigation in the case management system. This includes personnel, equipment, evidence and professional standards. You can also leverage intelligence to better feed the process.
- Integration. Modern case management systems need the ability to integrate data bi-directionally with other systems such as CAD, RMS or Gun Shot Detection, so agencies can not only avoid redundant data entry but also leverage the information to solve cases quickly.
Why Departments Have Been Slow to Adopt
The difference between RMS and case management software is clear. So why haven’t more police departments made the move to case management software?
Simple, they don’t know what to look for.
Police officers, and particularly those investigating major crimes, have an inherent desire to solve cases no matter what. Because of this dedication, they have adopted a mentality of improvise, adapt and overcome. So, when they are handed an RMS system that claims to provide CMS-like features but doesn’t meet their needs, they don’t stop investigating, they just find a workaround. In most cases, this means they go back to what worked before—like a paper-based system. This speaks to a key procurement challenge in the public sector: Police departments have to stick to a budget. Once they purchase a system, they can’t switch to something else on the fly if they don’t like what was provided or if the features for case management don’t meet their investigator’s needs.
Bottom Line: RMS vs. Case Management
Police records management systems and case management software are different by definition and functionality. RMS gets a bad rap when it comes to case management, but it’s not supposed to be case management. Because of this, many agencies assume they have no other options. But this is far from the truth.
Why You Need Law Enforcement Software for Both
Law enforcement software that offers both RMS integration and robust case management capabilities can help you improve incident reporting, clearance rates, community relationships and overall public safety.
With ShotSpotter Investigate™, you can capture and report on incidents, manage investigations, and support all the other functions you need to manage day-to-day. As a result, your clearance rates and crime statistics will improve.
Modernize your agency with a smarter case management software solution. Get in touch today to learn more.
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.