A good RMS is both an officer safety and a public safety issue.
RMS is Critical
By Kathy Marks
Information management begins with the first contact with an individual, a traffic accident, a home invasion or a 9-1-1 call. When dispatchers answer the phone on a 9-1-1 call, the RMS data begins to flow into the system.
One of the most important purchases and considerations for any law enforcement department is their information management or records management system, RMS. There are many systems on the market and in today’s economy, pricing is often a major consideration. However, that cannot be the only thing driving the purchase because the system must work for that department, function consistently, and always be able to provide information when needed.
Information management may seem like a dry topic but not to the people using it. Not being able to find information can be very frustrating. When information can’t be located, or is not immediately available, whether it is in the system or not, it can lead to officer and community safety issues, increases in crime, and poor morale.
Consider the scenario of a dispatcher trying to provide an officer on a traffic stop with information about what might be a stolen car containing subjects that might be wanted and known for weapons’ offenses. If the RMS system is not able to come up with that information, there are numerous officer safety issues, as well as public safety issues.
The RMS encompasses the entire system for maintaining that department’s information from the time that information is generated until it is no longer needed and includes classifying, retention, storing, securing, and destruction of records.
It includes any kind of incident or information report, accident reports, arrests, tickets, warrants, field contacts, fingerprints, mug shots, arrests and booking, protective orders, crime data and reports, investigative reports, and ongoing investigations. The system should have the capability of having data entered from a variety of sources within the department and retrieved by various sections of the department, whether by patrol, investigations or dispatch.
RMS Searchable with Imperfect Info
It is important that the information can be searched using whatever information is available, even if it is inexact or imperfect. For instance, Spillman Technologies simplifies searching by allowing searches using a “wild card” if the entire name is not known or a “sounds like” search if the searcher is not sure how the name is spelled.
This soundex function is important in case the person’s name is not spelled correctly by someone making a report, since there may be many variations of a name and these should be entered as aliases. After an entry is accepted, any new information involving that person, vehicle or other entity should be able to be added and the entry updated. There must be the capability to access not just internal data but also external sources such as state criminal history files, NCIC (National Crime Information Center), Secretary of State or other registration databases, and any other system being used.
Eric Sargent, Sales Manager of CrimeStar, said their data-based program uses drop-down menus to assure that information is always entered consistently, such as Street versus St. and the master index backfills information when the correct subject is located. To ensure database integrity, “garbage in, garbage out,” duplicate records can be combined if someone has not entered the correct information and begun a new file on an existing contact. Sargent is a former police chief and said that by the end of the first year, you usually have all the “frequent flyers” entered into the system, saving a lot of data entry.
The records management system should be able to recognize unique individuals, residences, organizations (both troublesome ones such as gangs and helpful ones such as businesses) and vehicles in order to be able to connect them and differentiate them. Using unique identifiers, such as FBI numbers, state criminal ID numbers, or social security numbers, all information on an individual should be available at the click of a mouse. This might sound like pie-in-the-sky, but all of the above is not just possible but is currently in practice.
Moving Data Between Systems
When a department renovates their existing quarters, moves to a more suitable location, or even builds a new modern facility, a necessary part of planning is how to get data from one location to another. This important consideration when moving to a new system or even new location must be worked out prior to implementing that new system.
Jeremy Hunt, Network Administrator, Hamilton County (Noblesville, Ind.) Sheriff’s Office handles information management for his agency. He was in charge when they moved to a new updated facility. They were on a small electronic system and upgraded to a more integrated and more capable system from New World Systems. This switch in providers was in 2006 and while things like cost, reliability, tech support, and other things were important to their decision, most important was having a solid company with a system that has the capabilities to meet needs in multiple disciplines.
Hunt stated there are basically three options for moving data to a new system. These are: migrating the data forward to the new system, leaving the data on the legacy system but keeping it active for reference, or creating a way to query both systems at the same time. Hunt noted that “Migrating the data forward sounds like a good idea, but there are a number of considerations.”
He said if the data you are moving forward is not clean and of excellent quality, then you will be putting bad data into a new database. There is also the problem of who is going to help decipher the data structure in the old database to map the data to the new database as well as the cost to do the migration.
Hunt said they chose the second option, leaving the old data on a legacy system and starting fresh with a new system. He reported, “In general, the most current active data was quickly re-created on the new system just from normal data entry processes. Keeping the data active on a legacy system allows the users to use the old data as a reference, but also lets the new system start clean. This is best for the new system, but will require dual lookup when looking at old records.”
He said if someone is able to understand the data structure of both systems to map the fields for a migration, they could write data reports to query both data sources at one time and that might be a happy medium between the two.
SunGardPS has assisted departments who are moving to a new facility by making the file transfer more expedient. There is a document scanning interface that can be used that will also interface with other systems with a general interface capability. The system can attach digitally any arrest information, videoed interviews, video capture cards, or other information directly into the RMS. They can really handle about any kind of file that needs to be attached into the new system.
If the data is already in a digital form, they are skilled at exporting it and importing it into the new system and are usually doing some of that with every system they install. They do a lot of data transfer services and teach the department who needs old data entered into the new system how to scan the material onsite to reduce costs. There are usually state or even federal guidelines about what data must be brought forward and preserved. SunGardPS does an implementation onsite with personnel there to go live and do onsite training. They are also available remotely for future needs.
Hunt explained that Hamilton County currently has their data stored in a MS SQL Database as part of their records system from New World Systems. Hunt stated, “A structured database is really the best way to store data. We use standard practices for backing up and protecting our data across multiple sites. We also have in place High Availability solutions to make sure the system is always available for our public safety users.” Hunt also said they have off-site storage by way of three sites, all on systems they own, where they do real-time data replication as well as more typical backups.
According to Hunt, finding the best long-term data storage is the million dollar question. He said right now keeping data online is the best storage solution and storage capabilities are keeping up with storage requirements, and as data is added to the system, they can keep up by adding more storage. Long term retention is still a question being considered by information management specialists.
Hunt addressed the issue of cloud storage providers for law enforcement data storage and stated, “I’m not yet convinced that cloud storage providers could provide a comprehensive solution for public safety. There has been a lot of progress in recent years in this area and there might be a place for it as a secondary storage. Security requirements for criminal justice data are the biggest concerns I would have with storing our data off site in some cloud data store.”
Some departments may provide services to other jurisdictions with records management systems by charging other departments for that service. Programs such as the Multi-Jurisdictional RMS of SunGard Public Sector’s OSSI RMS system can store and retrieve records for multiple jurisdictions using one server.
Alan Biddle, Director of Development for SunGardPS, said they are seeing this different trend with smaller agencies joining with larger departments. SundgardPS assists with this add-on business to help them with their cost and data sharing. Not only is there a cost savings, but it also facilitates communications and collaboration between the agencies and allows them to share information and data.
Agencies in different systems can also collaborate and join together in a shared RMS and there are some departments consolidating in that manner. Agencies can purchase individual modules, beginning with the RMS and then adding on other needed modules.
Lynze Lenio of Spillman Technologies, Inc., stated that Spillman provides options for small agencies on limited budgets and agencies can collaborate to store their Spillman data on a single server with one agency serving as the “host” by storing the Spillman server at its location. Other participating agencies can use a designated segment of the server to store data, allowing agencies to share hardware and maintenance costs, and to exchange critical law enforcement data with one another.
Making Upgrading Easier
There are few more important purchases for a department than their information management system. Every type of work performed at a law enforcement agency is dependent on their RMS. That system must be able to locate information within the system and link it to individuals and criminal acts.
When departments upgrade their records management systems, they have several choices to make about what to do with old data and the vendor with which they contract can help them choose the best option. Decisions must also be made about long-term data retention and their provider can assist them with options to safely keep that data. Smaller agencies are more and more often partnering with larger jurisdictions for the RMS function. Many RMS providers can assist by helping add on these services for host jurisdictions.
Kathy Marks has been a child abuse investigator for 30 years. She teaches classes regarding domestic terrorism and is a previous contributor to LAW and ORDER Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.