A powerful, flexible information sharing platform.
By: Albert Kopak and Angela McCord
Sarasota County is located in midwest Florida, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The county is situated along the coast of the state, includes 35 miles of shoreline, and is well-known for its beach resort communities. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) is charged with law enforcement duties among the population of 379,448 spread out across 556 square miles.
The Sheriff’s office is a full-service law enforcement agency with patrol, investigation, corrections, communications, youth services, K-9 officers, victim’s assistance personnel, court security, animal services, aviation, mounted patrol, special weapons and tactics, and crime prevention divisions. The SCSO is comprised of nearly 1,000 sworn officers and civilian personnel.
The SCSO has divided its jurisdiction into four sectors. Each of these sectors is divided into five smaller zones, except for one sector that contains four zones, creating a total of 19 zones. Sharing information among deputies and officer who work in these zones is paramount because these constitute the patrol areas where the vast majority of their time is spent.
Additionally, administrative personnel, such as sergeants and lieutenants, who supervise deputies in many zones, have individualized needs for accessing and sharing different types of information germane to each of these areas. To ensure the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) is practicing the most informed enforcement procedures possible, the agency has recently embarked on a unique collaborative mission.
At the heart of this effort is Microsoft SharePoint®, a collaborative software package, which is increasing the capability of deputies within the agency to share data with one another, while simultaneously fostering information sharing between law enforcement agencies who share jurisdictions and among other key criminal justice agencies, i.e., three other police departments who have jurisdictional overlap and county attorney’s offices.
Other law enforcement agencies around the U.S. and abroad currently have implemented information management strategies based on SharePoint software, i.e., Ogden, Utah Police, Oklahoma City, Okla., Maryland State Police and Miami-Dade, Fla. Police but the level of collaboration taking place in Sarasota County is distinctly progressive and can serve as a model for other agencies to build on.
SharePoint is a computer software program specifically intended as a conduit for sharing information between groups of people. Although SharePoint was originally designed for the corporate work environment, the program is well suited to law enforcement agencies for a number of reasons. First and foremost, SharePoint operates on a secure Web-based network. Information related to ongoing investigations, for example, must be protected and SharePoint offers the requisite levels of protection.
Second, the Web-based format of the program also affords officers the opportunity to have immediate access to information another officer has added to the database. Officers do not experience a significant time lag between when information is posted and when it becomes available.
Third, SharePoint is user-friendly. Officers usually move relatively quickly through a shallow learning curve because the program is no more difficult to use than other Microsoft® programs, such as Outlook®, which many are probably already familiar with. Fourth, agencies can tailor a SharePoint platform to fit their size and scope. SCSO has configured their SharePoint portal to meet the needs of all of the divisions within the agency.
Finally, SharePoint can be integrated fairly easily into a computer environment that already utilizes Microsoft programs. The program works seamlessly with Microsoft Outlook, for example, and calendar information can be immediately synchronized from one program to another.
SharePoint gives officers a variety of tools to share relevant information within the agency. One example is found through officers’ newly adopted SharePoint-based procedures for conducting daily briefings. At the end of each shift, officers can post critical information about incidents or investigations they just worked so officers starting on the next shift are immediately informed.
Officers typically post this information in the site’s area designated for their respective sector, but the information is accessible to all users. This is especially helpful if officers should be aware of potentially violent offenders who could be passing through a number of sectors.
In these types of situations, officers can update one another about potentially violent recently escaped prison inmates, for instance. A brief post on the daily briefing site can offer a physical description of the escapee, the license tag to the car the escapee was believed to be driving, and the last known whereabouts when officers had made contact. The SharePoint program has the capability to attach supplementary digital files, i.e., PDF, JPEG, TIFF, etc. containing mug shots to provide the most comprehensive information related to a given incident.
Deputies can also read safety bulletins issued for special circumstances, such as when a known gang member with an extensive and violent criminal history had contact with a deputy in a certain zone. The advantage of communicating this information is found in the heightened preparation among deputies who receive a call for service to a particular residence or nearby location where a potentially dangerous suspect may be.
SharePoint also increases the efficiency of SCSO deputies who enforce sex offender registry laws. Deputies are required by law to monitor sex offenders’ residences and every time a convicted sex offender changes his/her address, the new address must be registered and confirmed by a deputy.
The SharePoint site contains a feature allowing deputies to maintain a centrally located and easily accessible record of which addresses have been confirmed and which have not. This real-time assessment, which can be immediately updated from the field, is designed to decrease the likelihood of a sex offender intentionally avoiding the required reporting mandated by their conviction.
A similar system has been established to improve efficiency for those deputies whose duties include serving court orders. Deputies can access the SharePoint system to provide immediate updates of their efforts to serve a court order through a discussion-board type forum about a certain case. Instead of having multiple deputies trying unsuccessfully to serve an order, this function of the site provides documentation of the date and time of the attempted service, the outcome, and how to best proceed to complete the task.
One noticeable benefit of the SharePoint portal is the improved response of collaborating agencies. For example, it helped the Sarasota, Fla. Police with a subject listed in SharePoint as having a violent history with law enforcement officers and also another person of interest listed for a burglary.” The SharePoint platform successfully notified officers to be on the lookout for a suspect in a robbery investigation. Recognition of the suspect from the announcement on the site gave officers the opportunity to take the individual into custody immediately.
In addition to other law enforcement agencies, SCSO has also granted access to their information in the SharePoint site to the State Attorney’s Office of the 12th Circuit of Florida. The State Attorney’s Office uses the system primarily to track the cases of repeat offenders. Prosecutors responsible for these prolific offender cases are granted access to SharePoint and they input the status of each of these high-risk offenders.
This information is available to Sheriff’s deputies who, for example, can visit the site and determine who has been issued a pre-trial release. Deputies can follow up with investigations on these offenders and provide relevant information to assist prosecutors as they continue to prepare a case. All the information deputies have recorded in SharePoint can be exported into Excel® spreadsheets or other formats to be used as official court documents, if necessary.
For those cases that have been adjudicated, deputies can also review the outcome of their investigations. Deputies can also use the SharePoint site to learn which offenders have been incarcerated and which have not, informing them of at-risk offenders who may have re-entered the community. SharePoint can also be used to inform decisions at higher supervisory levels. Lieutenants, for example, can review deputies’ performance, crime patterns, and other critical information to intelligently manage their deputies.
For example, a lieutenant may observe patrol deputies’ records of a series of burglaries in a certain zone. The lieutenant might respond by asking a crime analysis manager to develop a report with relevant information related to each of the observed incidents such as the day and time of when these occurred, suspect descriptions, stolen property lists, and prolific offenders who may be in the area. The lieutenant can then review the crime analyses and respond with a data-driven decision on the best possible strategy to reduce future burglaries in the area.
In addition to these administrative advantages, SharePoint also provides the SCSO with several managerial functions that enhance efficiency in day-to-day operations. Outlook calendars, for example, can be synchronized with the program. Users can review when air support is available. If the air crew is in training, not working a certain shift, or performing maintenance on machines, users will know this immediately by checking the “air support” calendar linked in SharePoint. Calendars are also linked for traffic enforcement, detectives, and other administrative support personnel whose schedules need to be available to others in the agency.
In this time when law enforcement agencies must advance their information-based, proactive policing strategies with limited resources, the SharePoint system provides “timely and actionable” information at various levels in the agency. In the case of SCSO, the program was sitting unused until personnel realized they wanted to activate the platform.
An administrative initiative was undertaken to add a full-time IT technician to customize, manage, and refine the platform according to administrative deputies’ feedback. This type of information system may only be necessary within moderate- to large-size law enforcement agencies, but sharing information between agencies, including the district attorney’s office is a significant advancement in the field.
SCSO continues to develop its SharePoint platform to potentially include community corrections personnel in the effort. Overall, the successful implementation of this software program has given SCSO the ability to tap into its information to strategically determine the best ways to address crime, support other law enforcement agencies, and carry out other mission-specific functions that would otherwise consume many more resources.
Albert M. Kopak, PhD, - He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Angela M. McCord - She can be reached at email@example.com. The authors thank Kurt Hoffman, John Jernigan, Charlie Thorpe, and Bill Forrest for the significant contributions they made to this article.