Where does your law enforcement agency sit on the maturity curve when it comes to adopting new technology? If your department has a long way to go, you’re in good company. Agencies are all over the map in terms of tech adoption so we’re always looking to share useful tips and opinions from people who are in the know. To that end, the Utility team hosted a webinar on June 20 – we called it Navigating the New Tech Landscape: A Guide to Adopting the Right Solutions for Your Law Enforcement Agency – that featured some great insights from two experienced law enforcement executives.
Brad Flynn is the Chief of the Helena (Alabama) Police Department and has nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience. His career has seen him in a variety of roles from Narcotics Investigations and Tactical Operations to Traffic Homicide Investigator and Media Relations Officer. John Boyd joined Utility as our Law Enforcement Relations Manager following his recent retirement from the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office in Northwest Indiana where he served two terms as Sheriff. He has more than 34 years of experience in law enforcement.
Chief Flynn and Sheriff Boyd shared their real-life experiences around adopting new technology in law enforcement, covering topics like total cost of ownership, ease of use, innovation and provider reputation. The hope was to provide insights that might help agencies make informed tech decisions to enhance public safety, transparency, accountability and officer morale.
Performance and Ease of Use
In an audience poll that kicked off the webinar, more than 89% of respondents shared that performance and ease of use of the technology platform were their top considerations. Chief Flynn said he wasn’t surprised to see ease of use at the top of the list. “When I am acquiring equipment, I always ask ‘Is it cop friendly?’ I have a team of officers from different ranks that I have to test and evaluate products. If it’s not easy for them to use, what’s the point of purchasing it?”
Sheriff Boyd said he looks at factors like performance and ease of use in terms of their value. “Departments often ask, ‘What kind of value are we going to get from this technology?’ Value means not creating more work for your officers in the field.” He also looks at total cost of ownership, sizing up investment costs versus potential long-term benefits. “Years ago,” he said, “we were spending an inordinate amount on overtime for officers to come in and download their footage. As an administrator, I don’t mind spending money on overtime but I want to spend it on them being out in the field making communities safer, not being bogged down by technology.”
Referrals and References
Within the law enforcement community, it’s common to rely upon referrals and references from peers at other agencies when considering new technology. Chief Flynn and Sheriff Boyd offered a few suggestions for departments who may be doing this for the first time.
Chief Flynn said that, when he talks to peers, he wants to know the good and the bad. “Don’t just tell me what’s great about the technology,” he laughed. “Tell me what didn’t live up to your expectations. I want to make a very objective analysis. I wanted to make sure I got it right the first time.”
Never underestimate the importance of seeing technology in person when evaluating it, said Chief Flynn. “I’ve had several fellow chiefs who have come here to see how we have our system set up and whether it’s a fit for them. They asked the same questions I asked several years ago when I was looking.” Both agencies who came to see Flynn’s tech ended up getting their own, he said.
Top three considerations
When he was the Sheriff of LaPorte County (Indiana), John Boyd evaluated and implemented new technologies for the department. Now, in his role with Utility, he helps agencies do the same. Having seen both sides, he listed out the top three key considerations he’s seen departments prioritize.
- Improve efficiency
- Improve morale
- Improve transparency
While efficiency and transparency may seem like obvious inclusions, the inclusion of morale may be more surprising. However, Sheriff Boyd said, in-car and body-worn cameras can be a big booster of morale. “This technology supports officer accounts of any disputed incidents. It provides an accurate portrayal of exactly what happened.” It also means they’re not second-guessing themselves, Boyd said, after a frivolous claim that may otherwise shake their confidence.
Chief Flynn went even further, adding that the Utility technology his department bought served as a recruitment and retention tool. “We’re the only agency in this area that has this type of advanced solution. It shows officers that we are willing to invest the time and money in technology that is going to back them up and help protect them.”
Commitment to Innovation
What is a particular vendor’s commitment to innovation? Chief Flynn said it’s important to “do your homework” in researching all available options on the market. “I’m not going to make my decision based on a five-minute conversation and a handshake,” he said. “You need to do some internet sleuthing, talk to your friends and find out who these companies are.”
While agencies may have differing priority lists, Sheriff Boyd noted, vendor reputation and quality matter for many reasons. “Security of digital evidence is a big one,” he said. “Officer safety features. Having features like an accelerometer that auto-activates when an officer starts running or an officer-down feature that automatically alerts nearby officers.”
Assembling a Buying Committee
Evaluating and purchasing technology can be a daunting prospect for a department. Both Sheriff Boyd and Chief Flynn recommend assembling a team of people from different functions who can collaborate in navigating this project.
The composition of a “buying committee” will likely depend on the size of the department, said Sheriff Boyd. For medium or large departments he suggested having five to seven people on the team. “I would recommend including someone who has budgetary responsibilities,” he said, “someone from your IT staff, a Public Information Officer and an FTO coordinator since they will know exactly what is going on in the field.” It also makes sense, he said, to find a “sponsor” from the local government side.
Chief Flynn echoed that. “Elected officials are going to have questions from their side and they are responsible for the financial part so it’s my responsibility to give them as many factual answers as I can. It allows them to understand the importance of this as well as the value.”
Chief Flynn said his department assembled a buying committee with detectives, IT staff, administrators who would be using it on a daily basis and two different patrol officers – one from the day watch and one from the night watch since they sometimes have different needs.
Enhancing Public Safety
At the end of the day, Flynn and Boyd said, the technology is meant to enhance public safety so they urged their colleagues to keep an eye on what can make the biggest impact in helping an agency effectively do its work.
“Do your research,” said Boyd. “Get a group of trusted decision-makers together. Ask lots of peers and get their opinion on what works and what doesn’t.”
“Be sure you understand the significance not only of internal reactions but of external ones in the community,” said Chief Flynn. “My department’s technology purchase was an instant morale booster for officers but it was also something the public viewed as a commitment to transparency.”
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