Why Every Law Enforcement Officer Needs Analytics Now

It all starts with a story about a 2005 Mini Cooper.

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Until a few weeks ago, I drove a 2005 Mini Cooper convertible. I loved that car. It predated marriage and kids. I’d brought both babies home from the hospital in it. So when the Mini needed a $1,500 repair, I didn’t blink. OK, I did choke a bit, but I reluctantly forked over the money and consoled myself with the fact that at least I didn’t have a car payment.

Kids In Car 

Fast forward a month, and the engine fell apart. Literally. My husband was driving when he heard a loud POP! Everything shut off in the middle of the interstate and fortunately he was able to make it to the shoulder safely. Later in the shop, the mechanic said that when he removed the oil pan the engine fell to the floor in a thousand pieces. He’d never seen anything like it.

Had I known the car would fall to pieces when I made that repair a month earlier, had I simply made a data-driven decision (with Mini engines >100k miles you’re rolling the dice) I would’ve made a different choice. Pardon the cliché, but hindsight’s 20/20. So I was out $1,500 + 1 Mini. And now I have a car payment.

Information helps us make better decisions. It changes our mindset from emotion-driven (repeat: I LOVED that car) to informed. I recently attended the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute (IJIS) 2015 National Symposium, and information sharing was a key theme. Former Governor and United States Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge discussed information’s role in the fight against terrorism and how we need to better inform officers in the field.

Fortunately, improving access to information is something that law enforcement organizations around the world are doing today. In Sweden, the Skane County Police Authority used Qlik to analyze 10 years of crime reports to track down a serial killer. In just three hours, they found the crucial link that otherwise would have gone undetected for months. In the UK, Devon and Cornwall police improved crime mapping accuracy by 30%. And in the US, the El Paso Intelligence Center was just recognized as a Fed 100 Winner for their work in providing drug trafficking information to Federal and State & Local law enforcement organizations.

One speech at IJIS in particular caught my attention. The speaker painted a vision for the future where police officers in the field would be armed with Google-like glasses that would instantly scan license plates, provide all relevant information instantly, and eliminate officers approaching a vehicle blindly during routine traffic stops.

Can you imagine the power of that information? Well guess what? We don’t have to imagine, because that technology is here. Just look at what the Amsterdam-Amstelland fire brigade accomplished. They use Qlik to map the risks in the region and proactively respond to those risks. The system delivers 12 million possible incidents so firefighters know precisely what to expect before ever setting foot in a building.

In this era where access to information is a reality, we have a responsibility to both our officers and the public they protect to arm every officer in the field with critical information. This will reduce the need for judgment calls and enable them to make data-driven decisions. Yes, knowing something and doing it are two different things. Case in point...investing in a Mini with 130k miles on it. But when it comes to law enforcement, emotion-based decisions like mine can have much larger consequences than a new car payment.  

Photo credit: wplynn via Foter.com CC BY-ND

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