Ways to Improve Data-Sharing Across Law Enforcement Agencies

Successful law enforcement collaboration requires more than simply a willingness to work together. It requires the effective data-sharing across law enforcement agencies securely and efficiently.

The “it’s mine, not yours” approach is no longer appropriate in today’s environment. That is especially true when it comes to behavioral health crisis situations.

Data-sharing across law enforcement agencies is crucial to reducing mental health and substance abuse calls. When information related to the person’s treatment history is available to police officers at the point of service, diversion to proper resources can occur, supporting better recovery outcomes.

Even though information sharing is the lifeblood of policing, sharing within and across jurisdictions and organizations remains problematic. The problem lies not in the volume of information collected and shared. Instead, it is finding the correct information and finding it quickly.

Having appropriate information quickly and effectively means that law enforcement agencies can respond to crises swiftly and often prevent further escalation of situations involving behavioral health issues. Thankfully, law enforcement sharing has improved significantly in recent years, but many challenges still exist.

Challenges of Improving Data-Sharing Across Law Enforcement Agencies

We will explore some of those challenges and examine ways to improve data sharing across law enforcement agencies. Challenges to effective data sharing include:

  • Accuracy of data
  • Trust within and across organizations
  • Interoperability of data
  • Choosing appropriate software solutions
  • Funding

Ensuring the accuracy of the information collected should be a top priority for police officers when responding to a crisis. Failure to record correct information can result in response delays and misunderstandings.

Calls involving mental illness or substance use disorders require special attention to detail to ensure that the response is appropriate to the situation. Law enforcement agencies can improve data-sharing by learning from models such as the Memphis Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Program, which has established a specific dispatch code for mental health-related calls.

A code has also been established for mental health calls involving weapons. The Thomas Jefferson Area CIT in Charlottesville, Virginia, also uses specific codes to indicate four possible resolutions of mental health crisis calls: Resolved at location, Voluntary committal transport, Emergency custody order, and Resolved with an arrest.

Recent documents show that most of their mental health crisis calls are either “resolved on location” or “voluntary transport to treatment,” A steady decline in those resulting in an arrest has been noted. By having access to this type of specific information, law enforcement can quickly determine which individuals have received treatment services previously, allowing easy diversion to proper resources.

All individuals and agencies involved should receive adequate training to ensure accurate recording and data tracking.

Data-Sharing and Trust Across Organizations

Effective data sharing requires relationships of trust within and across organizations. It has often been said: “data will move at the speed of trust.” Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies can often be protective of their information, creating a silo effect, presenting a significant challenge to efficient data sharing. Often this is due to the law enforcement agencies looking to stay compliant with ever-changing privacy rules.

Creating interagency partnerships and building relationships through honest acknowledgment of each other’s issues is key to successful information sharing. In addition, frequent and clear communication between agencies about what can and cannot be shared will ensure that data is collected accurately.

Officers will be better positioned to effectively respond to a mental health crisis when armed with the knowledge of what information they can and should be collecting on the scene and how to access pertinent information on the individual(s) involved. Establishing an environment of trust takes time and effort. Still, there are things that agencies can do to start that journey, such as simply sharing information that’s easy to share and adopting the motto of “share unless there is a good reason not to” rather than “share under special circumstances only.”

These small steps can help establish a culture of openness and collaboration that can make it easier to develop more complex data-sharing relationships in the future.

Interoperability Among Law Enforcement

In today’s high-tech world, data is everywhere, and successful data sharing means that computer systems must be able to “talk” to each other while protecting and securing private health information. Unfortunately, the reality is that data is often held in silos (collection of data stored by one group that other groups cannot easily access even in the same organization).

 Even within these silos, multiple logins and access rights may be needed to answer this simple question: “what information is already available on this individual?” The solution to this unique challenge is the interoperability of data, which is the ability to timely and securely access, integrate, and use available information to optimize individual situations.

One of the most effective ways law enforcement agencies can help connect these various systems is through a cloud platform. Julota’s cloud platform enables safe, easy access to sensitive information without sacrificing the customizations each organization needs. The Julota platform does not replace a law enforcements CAD system. Instead, it interfaces with whatever CAD you are using and any other community organizations that wish to participate.

Using cloud computing means organizations no longer need to maintain systems locally to share information. When a message is sent out from one, that information comes through one source for more efficient communication and less risk of data falling through the cracks. The cloud-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) platform bridges the gaps between agencies smoothly and efficiently.

TV shows like CSI, NCIS, FBI, and others have become a visible component of today’s culture and have presented the viewing public with the expectation that needed data can be accessed instantly by law enforcement. Though the reality is much different, significant improvement in data sharing is seen across the United States.

Electronic Information Exchange for the Justice Community

The Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global) advises the U.S. Attorney General on justice information sharing and integration initiatives. Representing more than 30 independent organizations across law enforcement, judicial, correctional, and others, it promotes standards-based electronic information exchange for the justice community.

The Global Advisory Committee (GAC) comprises key personnel representing justice entities from local, state, tribal, federal, and international partners. Their mission: the efficient sharing of data among justice entities. The GAC appoints groups to work collaboratively to address policy, connectivity, and jurisdictional issues that hamper effective information sharing. Since its inception, significant steps have been taken to join disparate components of the justice community into a cohesive system, offering hope that effective information sharing can become a reality.

Law enforcement agencies seek ways to adapt as the amount of data collected has skyrocketed. But unfortunately, there is a sea of data out there that could easily fall by the wayside without the right tools.

Technology Advances for Law Enforcement and Mental Health

Thankfully, new technological advances have been game-changers for law enforcement. However, choosing appropriate software solutions is as important as collecting the proper information, so the software should meet the following criteria:

  • Is approved by your state or region
  • It is secure from unauthorized users
  • It is a software as a service (SaaS) cloud migration model
  • It is a central connecting point for all agencies
  • Is capable of collecting data from diverse source

With Julota, you can rest assured that your software needs are met in one comprehensive solution. Julota is used by municipalities, counties, and states from coast to coast and allows safe, secure access to pertinent data to authorized users only.

Its cloud-based platform is flexible, interoperable, and HIPAA compliant. It supports critical initiatives like Crisis Intervention Teams, Mental Health and Law Enforcement Co-Responders, and the Mental Health Field Response Teams Programs, to name a few. In addition, cloud computing technology offers software as a service, or SaaS, allowing agencies to control and own the data while connecting disparate systems and making them interoperable.

Funding for Data Sharing Technology in Law Enforcement

Today’s challenging fiscal environment requires innovative means for new and continued funding for improving data-sharing across law enforcement agencies. Though state legislative appropriations and federal grants provide the bulk of money available for information-sharing systems, many states have created and expanded various programs to sustain these systems.

Technology funds that use court fees, fines, and taxes have become a popular way for government entities to defray the costs of sophisticated, innovative technologies. These funds are a reliable source of income, eliminating the need for continual requests for further legislative funding. In addition, a revolving fund system is used in many instances, allowing monies to remain in the specific fund at year-end rather than reverting to general funds.

Additional ideas for funding include sales tax revenues and government bonds. For example, Oklahoma’s Department of Public Safety receives a percentage of tax revenue from car sales. In addition, since as early as 1996, Nebraska has diverted 2 cents from the state’s cigarette tax to the Information Technology Infrastructure Fund.

Massachusetts pioneered the use of technology bonds to pay for data-sharing technology. In 2002 the legislature approved the sale of more than $300 million in bonds to fund technology initiatives. State government entities such as state police and district attorneys have received funding used to automate their operations. Innovative information technology funding programs such as these represent significant new trends that will empower governments to leverage limited resources. 

If the last few years have taught us anything in this country, we must continue to find better ways to address mental health crises. The ability of law enforcement to remain responsive and adaptable to evolving circumstances is more critical than ever as we move into 2022.