The management, storage, sharing and retrieving of information has long been a vital activity of law enforcement. The efficiencies dramatically increase within a department that has full digital record storage and retention. The more readily and easily that information is shared across different law enforcement agencies, the more effective law enforcement become.
One of the realizations brought to light during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack was that there was a significant amount of information available on each perpetrator that were collected and retained at local law enforcement levels or even at federal and state levels, but there was no way to bring the information together in a collaborative manner that would provide early warning signals of terrorist activities.
Since 9/11 there have been significant efforts to share information at the federal, state and local levels. New protocols, data base systems and communication systems have evolved to more effectively combat terrorism and other types of crimes.
There are a variety of efforts to implement effective information sharing. The Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division serves 18,000 organizations and agencies by use of the latest technology and statistical analysis. Some of the information shared includes fingerprints and crime statistics. Some of CJIS services include:
- Law Enforcement On-Line (LEO)- A sharing system for regional law enforcement agencies
- National Crime Information Center
- Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System
- Uniform Crime reporting program
Currently these information sharing systems are used to help combat:
- Drug Trafficking
- Identity theft
- Human trafficking
- Violent crimes
While progress has been significant, there is still much work to be done. Considerer the enormous challenges:
- There are almost 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the US, with varying degrees of resources and technical sophistication.
- Information can be stored or kept at federal, state, county and city levels.
- Much information is still only available in hard documentation; information retrieval can take days or weeks.
- There are political boundaries that can play a role, for example some cities have chosen to ignore federal law when it comes to reporting illegal immigrants. One famous case was the murder of Kate Steinle in July 2015. She was shot by a illegal immigrant who had a previous record of violent crimes in the US. The city of San Francisco had adapted a “sanctuary city” policy and chose to not report knowledge of this man to immigration officials, letting him instead roam freely.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is digitizing records. Many records are still on paper documents or microfilm records. Digitizing and indexing records so that they can be shared on databases will significantly improve local, state and federal law enforcement efforts for crime prevention and apprehension.
Some local agencies are hesitant to embark on a major digitization program. There appear to be three major reasons for this hesitation:
- Cost: Many agencies believe that the effort to digitize records would be extremely costly. While there could be significant costs associated with this, modern scanning and digitizing technology has made this effort much less time consuming and costly. The return on investment is substantial as this could ultimately save thousands of hours of retrieval time and reduce expensive storage space. Usually the cost per scanned image is just a few pennies.
- Control of records: Many are concerned about extremely sensitive information leaving the control of an agency for days or weeks. This issue can be addressed by companies that will do scanning at your facility. Many companies, such as Microfacs will bring equipment and staffing into the agency facility and scan the records without them ever leaving the building.
- Quality of scanned images: Many are concerned about low quality images of fingerprints or other records, poor duplication can make records worthless. Again, state-of-the-art scanning equipment available today allows high resolution scanning, virtually assuring robust duplication of vital records.
There have been a number of law enforcement agencies that have undertaken a major digitizing effort. Many of these efforts are documented in case studies that can be found online. Reduced labor, faster retrieval times, less storage space and more secure access are some of the common benefits that are reported.