Software for law enforcement is both a difficult tool to evaluate, and essential to the modern working environment for law enforcement. Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), Records Management Systems (RMS), Evidence Management Systems (EMS), Report Writing Software, data sharing tools, mapping software, citation and warrant programs, agency management software, and enough investigation tools to fill an entire catalog. You get the picture: software has pervaded the entire law enforcement workflow. There’s no getting around it. Your best chance of success is to evaluate products on their adherence to best practices.
We know that software specific to law enforcement functions is expensive, when looking at it on the grander scale. Software built for the general public does not answer the call, and consequently, the price tag for niche-oriented products goes up based on the anticipated market, and the technical labor that goes into it. These are elements that we know will not change. However, any software being built has some expectations tied to it, usually from an industry, and possibly government-oriented standard. Law enforcement software that doesn’t measure up to these standards shouldn’t be an option for you.
The standards do vary, based on the intended use, especially when considering any government regulations. However, understanding what, if any standard and regulations do exist, and how they apply to the software you are considering is the important information to know. From that, you are able to ask informed questions of your potential vendor. If their answers are not a direct affirmative or negative response, then you can be assured that vendor did not consider any standards when they built the software they are now trying to get you to purchase.
The types of things that dictate quality software for law enforcement are adherence to things like: Homeland Security Directives, Presidential/Executive Orders, Criminal Justice Information Sharing, National Institute of Standards and Technology, just to name a few. If your vendor doesn’t have documentation explaining what standards they follow, or how their technology incorporates those standards, then their software is not worth your evaluation.
Best Practices Derived from Professional Associations
Law enforcement has a number of organizations in the fold that provide training, best practices, and other guidance as it pertains to various specialty jobs within the field. From accident reconstruction, to civil process service, to narcotics investigation, to evidence management, and all the way to written statement analysis, there is some group out there that documents the best way to handle these situations, through recommended policy and procedures, effective training, and certification.
Software vendors should be looking to these organizations for advice and support in building ‘the next best thing,’ because certainly any software built to document, record, and managed any discipline within law enforcement, is going to be subjected to courtroom scrutiny. Whether it’s the software itself, or the product it produces, having software that is mindful of these disciplines is important.
Organizations like the International Association for Property & Evidence, the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, and the International Homicide Investigators Association are just a few of the organizations any law enforcement officer will come across in their career for training, support, and career success. Vendors who build software around these types of issues need to consider these organizations as valuable when it comes to building software that is mindful of workflow, and best practices from a legal standpoint.
These organizations have spent year after year developing plans for agencies to succeed in various disciplines. These plans serve software vendors squarely, as it presents a de facto “rules of engagement” when building solutions that work for the law enforcement market.
Agencies are getting smarter about their software needs. What’s the point of having the latest and greatest CAD system, if it doesn’t share data to your RMS, or your EMS? These various software systems need to “talk” to one another. A Call for Service quickly becomes a report, with people of varying roles, which then leads to evidence collection, and follow-up investigations, which lead to arrest warrants, which lead to jail records, and so it goes.
If these various pieces of software don’t transfer data from one system to another, your officers are having to reinvent the wheel at each stage of processing a single incident. That’s not fair to their time, and it’s not fair to your labor budget. Vendors that show a perpetual unwillingness to integrate with software you deploy are not vendors you should keep. They are going to make your life much more difficult, and they likely don’t care. And frankly, it’s the first sign that if you needed direct service for their own products, you’d likely get the run around.
As IT needs in law enforcement get more niche and sophisticated, vendors need to play by your rules, not the other way around. If they aren’t going to serve your needs, cancel the contract and get rid of them. They are not worth the tax dollars, or the headache.
Be safe out there!