By Beau Thurnauer, Deputy Chief of Police, East Hartford, Connecticut; and Chief of Police (Retired), Coventry, Connecticut
aw enforcement agencies have missions and goals that include serving the community and apprehending criminals. Chiefs and other top-level managers often call on technology to assist them in reaching their goals more effectively and efficiently. Twenty-five years ago, crimes were analyzed by intuition and informal discussions in the locker room; today mapping systems are integrated with computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and records management systems (RMSs). These systems extract incidents for the purposes of drawing pattern maps and giving data lists of incident locations and times.
Who would have thought that officers would ever be able to mount a small thermal imaging camera to their spotlights that interfaces with their mobile data terminals? Chiefs have only to thumb through the numerous police technology magazines to become sufficiently saturated with new product information to start a wish list for their agencies.
Creating and following up on a technology wish list has become the task of every police agency in the United States. All agencies have some level of technology that has to be researched, evaluated, purchased, installed, maintained, and eventually replaced (a process known as REPIMR). And, perhaps most importantly, how do agencies distinguish between what they want and what they really need? This column offers some tips on addressing technology needs in any agency.
First, an agency’s leadership needs to list all of the agency’s present technology, paying attention not to forget the simple stuff. This list should include portable radios, flashlights, printers, desktop and laptop computers, file servers, and even telephone systems. Every one of these items has become an everyday piece of law enforcement equipment. Every one also carries a cost to maintain (CTM). CTMs have increased so much over time that a great deal of new technology has been put on hold simply because software maintenance fees, batteries, and updated computer processors have risen in cost so much. It was once believed that digital photography would minimize photo costs; now if photos are printed, the cost of print cartridges may exceed the cost of traditional photo development. The point is not to just acknowledge CTMs but to include them in the budget request. That means real quotes and an honest evaluation on the amount of use. CTMs must be included in the budget every year and should have a strong presence in any multiyear plan.
Should an agency be lucky enough to still have money to purchase new technology or if it is submitting a proposal for a new expenditure, there is still a lot of work to do.
Research and Evaluation
First, whatever the desired technology, an agency should make sure that it is really needed. Is there a proven track record with another agency that indicates that it will increase officer time on the street or that more apprehensions will be made in a safer manner? Some nonlethal weapons can be justified by arguing that they will decrease claims against officers of unreasonable force. Live scan systems may be justified by citing evidence that their use will increase officer time in the field through reduced time in the booking process. Agencies should diligently research any product on which taxpayer money will be spent to gain a firm understanding of the product’s advantages. Any agency claiming that a product will reduce its liability should be prepared to show evidence to this end.
Important in any effort to research a particular product are objective evaluations of that product. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has tested body armor for years. The Michigan State Police has tested cars. Many states have technology centers that serve as evaluation vehicles. The Justice Technology Information Network (www.justnet.org) provides a library of technology information. In addition, the IACP (www.theiacp.org) provides free information on a variety of topics through its Research Center and its Technology Center.
Once an agency decides a product is needed and the expense justified, the purchase process begins. Most purchases are closely controlled by agency policy or the local government’s purchasing procedures. For major expenditures, a request for proposal (RFP), a request for quotation (RFQ), or a request for information (RFI) will be necessary. An RFP, which normally describes a problem that has to be solved and asks for a proposed solution, can be initiated through letters to vendors and a publication in local newspapers. An RFP can be followed by an RFQ, which asks for a price quote on a specific item. For agencies that already know what they want, an RFQ may be the only document needed.
It is less common to use an RFI, but it often assists in defining solutions an agency might not have considered. For example, for an agency that is interested in voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as a possible replacement for its telephone system but is unsure what benefits the emerging technology provides, an RFI might help clarify the issues. Receiving a formal presentation from a vendor following the publication of an RFI or an RFP is a method to understand not only the product better but also to get a feel for the vendor.
Imagine buying new computers for patrol cars only to find that they are not compatible with the agency’s radio consoles, and 25 percent has been added to the cost of the project, or perhaps finding out that installation is not included in the price. What happens then? A local department recently purchased patrol rifles and wanted to use electronically activated mounts attached to the prisoner cages. Unfortunately, no one had realized that the rifles had lights that made them incompatible with the mounting hardware in the car. What should the agency do? Take off the lights? Buy new lights? Customize the mounting system? No one wants to go through this. Fortunately, most of these incidents can be prevented by adequate research and evaluation.
The installation of computer equipment can present another host of issues. Is the power source adequate? Where are the wires going to go? Do they have to be on a UPS outlet? Agencies should not depend on vendors to answer all these questions. Chief executives must ensure that every detail is examined not only to prevent unforeseen expenses but to maintain their status as credible leaders.
Agencies purchasing software must be sure to determine the maintenance cost not only for the next year but for the next five years. Costs increase over time; for that reason, a determining factor in selecting a particular vendor might be whether that vendor includes maintenance in the price of the package. A recent purchase of a live scan system required an annual maintenance fee of $7,000. The small agency had purchased the system on a grant and could not come up with the fee. As a result, the system has been shut down until an alternative can be found.
Portable radios are nearly mandatory today. But battery costs have skyrocketed. Agencies delay purchasing new batteries to keep costs down, to the detriment of safety and service to the community. Even body armor replacement has to be anticipated, since vests have a shelf life specified in the NIJ standards.
Maintenance costs have to appear in original proposals for any new equipment, and the ongoing costs have to be made clear to prevent discrepancies in future budgets.
Sooner or later, everything wears out. Computers are an excellent example. What about new flat-screen monitors? The economical time to purchase a new computer screen is not when the old one burns out. Agencies with 10 computers can figure on a full replacement every three or four years. If they stretch it to five or six years, they might find that new software will not work on the older computers or that they take so long to process information that no one uses them.
Strategic planning involves taking the necessary steps to ensure that technology is managed well. Chiefs might not always know every detail of every new gadget, but they will be expected to know about the process of purchasing, the pitfalls of faulty installation, the cost of maintenance, and the replacement schedule. ■