Integrating New Technology and Fresh Perspectives to Enhance Investigations in Washington DC
An Insight from the 2018 Public Safety Summit
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Police departments face constant pressure to respond to increasingly complex crimes and public safety threats, while improving citizen engagement, stakeholder collaboration, and community outreach. To do so successfully requires new strategies and tactics to build organizational capacity.

Over the last several years, the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department has embarked on a capacity- growing journey integrating new approaches to both human capital and technology. During their presentation at The 2018 Public Safety Summit: Leadership in Turbulent Times, Chief Peter Newsham and Chief of Staff Matthew Bromeland shared their story of collaborating with Mark43 to introduce new technology that provides real-time, essential data to their officers in the field and reduces the time spent on documentation. They also described how they simultaneously created a new civilian position for criminal research specialists to compile and analyze multiple streams of data to support detectives in the field in a timely manner.

Growing Pains

The Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department has 3,800 officers and over 650 civilian employees tasked with responding to the public safety needs of a large city that has only ballooned in size over the past ten years. Even as the number of high priority calls increases, the public continues to expect that police officers will respond quickly when called. DC’s legal system also expects that the paperwork on each of those additional calls will be complete and detailed. That posed a significant challenge for an organization that was still handwriting reports with carbon paper as late as 2007.

The department deployed its first automated records management system in 2007. However, the functionality was limited. Then in 2012, the police department decided to deploy a full-scale records management system, but the results were less than ideal. Officers had to take a minimum of 40 hours of training to learn how to add reports, pull information, and otherwise do their jobs on the new system. The hours required for training to learn the system essentially equated to taking 70 officers off the street per year. And, in most cases, 40 hours of training wasn’t sufficient. The system was cumbersome, difficult to use, and was not intuitive. It created more problems than it was meant to solve.

The public was also unhappy with the new system. Members of the police department were without large portions of their data for months at a time as it was getting onboarded to the new system. As a result, individuals were running into hurdles getting the information they needed to move forward and police officials had few answers.

Improving Efficiency Without Sacrificing Usability

The department turned to Mark43. The new company had previously worked with intelligence systems, but department leadership challenged them to create a system specifically designed for the needs of daily policing. Mark43 sent its entire management team to DC and embedded them in the police department. Technologists rode along with officers for hours each day, understanding how and why they do what they do. Officers themselves were also interacting with a demonstration version of Mark43’s software, learning how to use features and also providing feedback on how it worked for policing.

After a year and a half, Mark43’s solution was deployed within the police department. Training time on the new system went from 40 hours to half a day. Officers were able to complete reports more efficiently and more intuitively. Overall, the system was far easier to use and, as a result, the amount of time officers spent completing reports dropped considerably.

The new technology had an additional benefit. As the system was being deployed, the police department was faced with a hiring slowdown. Despite fewer resources, and because officers were spending far less time completing reports, they had more time to spend doing active police work, patrolling neighborhoods and building relationships with those in the community.

“Even the best technology is only as good as the people using it. Which is why investing in the right personnel is so critically important.”

Matt Bromeland
Chief of Staff, DC Metropolitan Police Department

Creating a Support Team

Around the same time the department began exploring a new records management system, Bromeland started building an investigative support team. Working under the premise that modern investigations have become much more complex, this civilian team would help investigators make the most of the data and technology available to them for solving crimes. Bromeland started with a team of nine people with a strong technology background; he found a group of people in the community who were interested in law enforcement, but not necessarily interested in being officers. They were tasked with helping detectives and officers leverage internal data and analytics capabilities to bring new insights to investigations.

The investigative support team had to learn the 30 or so law enforcement systems and criminal justice databases utilized by the department. Those systems include the records management system, CAD system, radio communications, geospatial data tracking, individual data intake, corrections, and the city’s criminal justice portal, among many others.

At the start, detectives and officers were skeptical of the new support team. Many were unclear what the members of the unit could actually do for them. But as time passed and the unit began providing critical assistance, detectives soon realized how valuable the new unit would be as they conducted their investigations. For instance, shortly after the unit began operating, someone reported an armed robbery and a look-out for multiple suspects was voiced over the radio. While police were en route to the scene, the investigative support team began working. They were able to link up to the crime camera in the area and see who initially matched the lookout. They also pulled the alert from –the gunshot detection system and were able to determine that there was a shot fired around the same time as one of the subjects appeared to brandish a firearm on the video. The team also pulled GPS ankle bracelet supervision data to see if anyone under court-ordered supervision was in the area - they were. The investigative team was able to follow the individual back to an apartment and sent all of this new information in real-time to police officers as they were pulling up to the scene. Within an hour, the individuals involved in the robbery were identified and arrested without further incident. The investigative support team had begun to build their credibility throughout the department.

The investigative support team’s reputation for providing critical assistance with investigations became so well known that other departments and agencies in the area started asking for assistance from the team and have explored setting up similar units. The team has now grown to 15 positions.

The key for Washington DC was having talented personnel in place who understood the pain points police were facing each day. While they did not necessarily envision a career as a police officer, they still wanted to be involved with law enforcement and use their unique set of skills to pursue a career in public safety. According to Bromeland, finding these people meant being able to put technology tools to their best use. The organization realized new efficiencies in time saved and data management and were able to do so while improving public safety.

“There are some really good people who want to serve in law enforcement and possess a different set of skills. Ultimately, we seek to hire talented people and make them proud to work for our agency by giving them an opportunity to do great things and solve difficult problems.”

Peter Newsham
Chief of Police, DC Metropolitan Police Department


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