Browse through Netflix and it won’t take you too long to find a new documentary about a serial killer or a whodunit cold case.
Over the past few years, the surge of public interest in true crime stories has been attributed to the abundance of podcasts, shows and documentaries featuring all-too real details of actual crimes. Part of the fascination resides in the criminal investigative process while others are compelled to watch and understand how these perpetrators could get away with their crimes for so long. But step outside the glossy world of made-for-TV documentaries, and the very real roadblocks crime investigators face as they work to solve these crimes become starkly clear.
The problem: How do criminals get “away” with it?
Criminals take advantage of the lack of coordination between jurisdictions, often made worse by obstacles that impede data sharing. Whether it’s car thefts, home burglaries or something more serious, some habitual perpetrators move from county to county or state to state to commit similar types of crimes.
- To local agencies with limited resources and overburdened caseloads, these “one-off” crimes seem isolated. In fact, it is usually a very small percentage of the population that commits a majority of the violent crimes.
- Perpetrators rely on the fact that many agencies cannot easily share crime data details with each other because their record management systems (RMS) are not designed for interoperability. An agency’s RMS and CAD data is highly proprietary and not readily shared in the federal data sharing systems.
- The currency of data within those federal data sharing systems can sometimes be months, or even years old.
The solution: A “LinkedIn” for crime investigators
Much like how social media sites have connected people with similar interests, there should be a “LinkedIn” mentality for connecting investigators with data about similar crimes. RMS interoperability would connect crime investigators to the crime data and allow them to:
- Easily search and sort through data from multiple linked systems
- Identify trends
- See how people are moving
- Detect how related criminal activity is being dispersed across regions
- Receive proactive information regarding developing crime patterns and suspicious activity
By no longer duplicating efforts, public safety agencies who share data through interconnected systems can save lives and prevent future victimization far more effectively than those who don’t.
The outcome: A more complete investigative picture
By being able to search outside their local RMS into linked systems, law enforcement can build a better investigative picture. Investigators with hard-to-crack cases or cases going cold can search across multiple local systems for trends or identifying features, such as someone with specific tattoos or a specific MO.
For example, when people commit crimes across jurisdictions, they often stick to a tried-and-true formula. They might use the same alias, vehicle and weapon or have an identifying tattoo. If a patrol officer pulls over a vehicle, she could do a quick search of not just her agency’s RMS, but any participating RMS locally or nationally to see if that same vehicle was involved in incidents in other jurisdictions. With RMS interoperability, the officer can see that the same person was doing the same thing fifteen miles away in a nearby county or 1,500 miles away in a different state. RMS interoperability gives the officer a much better picture of a situation she is entering.
RMS interoperability already exists to some extent. Major crimes and felonies get reported at the federal level. Agencies can conduct a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) search to query the federal database. But for the majority of smaller crimes and local warrants that don’t get reported – many don’t even make it to the state level and the data is only available to the local agency. It is this additional data that could be the missing puzzle piece for a crime investigator in a neighboring county or state.
Making RMS interoperability a reality
When criminals cross jurisdictions, they typically leave behind a trail of evidence that translates into a trove of crime data. But the days when that data were walled off behind a local RMS could be over. Public sector technology companies like CentralSquare are working to link together agencies so crime investigators can see if similar crimes are happening across counties, cities and states and determine if these crimes are being committed by the same people. CentralSquare runs analytics and machine-learning algorithms on this vast and propriety database to provide real-time notifications to crime investigators and law enforcement, native in the applications they already use, such as CAD, RMS and mobile applications. Sometimes a saving few seconds could be a matter of life or death.
If we can bring these data sharing systems together and then overlay artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze it quickly, crime investigators can catch these criminals more efficiently. By making RMS interoperability a reality across the country, crime investigators have better access to more pieces of the puzzle, so they can close more cases and stop future victimization at the source.