Databases that don't talk to each other are hurting law enforcement: If police can't connect the dots across state lines, bad guys can get away. Data integration is key.

Wai-Ming Yu, Partner, Accenture

July 3, 2014

4 Min Read

A police investigator's chance of solving a crime is far higher within the first 42 to 78 hours after an incident. Officers need to quickly gather as much data as possible to map out the people, places, and activities surrounding a criminal activity or suspect.

On television, this looks like an investigator holding a mobile phone and tapping into a national database that spits out the name and location of the suspect. In reality, officers often struggle to navigate a patchwork system of data and information that is inaccessible across city, county, and state lines.

The United States has more than 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies working with IT systems that don't communicate with each other. The constellation of clues and evidence related to criminal activity is often spread across disconnected databases and paper files in thousands of local, state, and federal agencies. In many cases, criminals who have been stopped by the police are freed when local law enforcement data searches are unable to access information that is stored outside their own systems. Most of these databases are not integrated, and therefore the information is not shared. The issue has resulted in police forces that are challenged to identify and arrest offenders and manage cases properly, because the information they need resides in another state or county.

[Would your company be legally liable for stolen customer data? Read Sensitive Data: What Constitutes 'Reasonable Protection'?]

What many have suggested seems logical: Integrate data between the agencies for unified access using so-called "multi-tenancy" information systems, which standardize information storage across agencies running on the same operating systems, applications, and hardware. The standardization across agencies makes sense, especially given 75% of policing processes required to track and respond to crimes are essentially the same.

However, each agency is protective of its data and has budget, privacy, and security concerns when asked to open it up to other investigators. These borders need to be respected and are often in place for very good reason, but there are solutions. What's preventing progress right now are a few myths about the dangers of sharing police systems and data.

Myth No. 1: It's expensive. Having one information system for multiple agencies rather than each agency buying, building, and maintaining its own system offers a powerful opportunity for savings. Multiple law enforcement agencies could band together to leverage their collective resources to procure, implement, and maintain solutions that support the collective. Agencies can reap savings from upfront consolidated procurement as well as down the road from reduced systems maintenance requirements.

Myth No. 2: Agencies will lose control of their data. A multi-tenant system would allow agencies to gather insights in a controlled environment. Different tenants could access common functionality with common data structures that are all managed by security and access controls that regulate who can see and update records. This allows each agency to maintain the ownership and integrity of its data.

Myth No. 3: It's not secure. A single records or case management system can serve multiple law enforcement agencies without jeopardizing the security and privacy of information. Within these systems, tenants maintain autonomy and security of their proprietary data and information. Each tenant can further customize access rights and dictate restrictions for their users.

When you look at it from a budgetary and public safety perspective, the costs of not embracing multi-tenancy information systems are far higher than the costs of implementation. Law enforcement agencies can't effectively enable a safe and secure nation without solutions that break through fragmented information-sharing and intelligence-gathering barriers. Multi-tenancy information systems can help technologically challenged agencies stop criminals from hiding their intentions and connect the dots when it comes to cross-jurisdictional cases and investigations as police get access to the information they need to keep citizens and cities safe.

InformationWeek's June Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of big data. Find out one CIO's take on what's driving big data, key points on platform considerations, why a recent White House report on the topic has earned praise and skepticism, and much more.

Co-author Jody Weis is senior manager of Accenture state, provincial, and local public safety.

About the Author(s)

Wai-Ming Yu

Partner, Accenture

Wai-Ming Yu leads Accenture's State, Provincial, and Local North American Public Safety business. Wai has spent the last 18 years serving in various leadership roles at Accenture, collaborating successfully with public sector clients on transformation projects, including work with Canadian offices responsible for community and social services, human resources skills development in Canada, foreign affairs, and international trade.

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