New challenges continuously arise for public safety agencies. Often, these new challenges can come with little to no warning, leaving virtually no time to prepare. As seen with the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, law enforcement had to quickly adapt to meet the unique needs of a rapidly altered environment while still being expected to fulfill their everyday duties.
COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for agencies to utilize new technologies to communicate with their citizens, keep communities and officers safe and adapt quickly to the changes they face. One such tool they can leverage allows citizens to self-serve with online reporting tools.
What do online reporting tools mean for citizens?
Web-based online reporting tools would allow citizens to report a crime or other non-emergency situations simply by going to a website. For example, if an individual’s garbage bins were stolen or if someone’s car was broken into, they can report it online. Because online self-serve reporting is reserved for non-life-threatening or non-emergency incidents, citizens can use the web-based system to submit answers to the reporting questions themselves.
How does this help citizens?
A major benefit of online reporting, especially during a pandemic, is that it prevents the need for physical contact during a non-emergency situation. Depending on the nature of what’s being reported, officers can then follow up with a phone call to obtain any additional details or clarification, then proceed with normal protocol to resolve the issue. The report can then be entered into an agency’s records management system.
Online reporting also allows for citizens to obtain reports more easily. Individuals can download a copy of an incident report or a crash report, common for insurance purposes, at their own convenience. This reduces the need for citizens to go into a police department and wait for a clerk to pull the report. In situations where social distancing is encouraged and physical interactions are being minimized, citizens save time and stay safe simply by downloading a copy of the report to their computer at home.
How does online reporting help law enforcement agencies?
While online reporting has the potential to help protect officers from possible exposure to COVID-19 because it reduces face-to-face interactions, it can also help mitigate major challenges faced by law enforcement agencies once the pandemic subsides. One such example is the nationwide shortage of patrol officers and 911 dispatchers. Agencies have only a certain number of officers available in the field at a given time. With online reporting, patrol officers are no longer required to drive out to a remote location or halfway across town to take a non-emergency report that could have been submitted electronically by a citizen via the public-facing website. In turn, this allows patrol officers to focus on more urgent, high-priority calls where their immediate physical presence is needed. It would also free up a 911 dispatcher’s time to focus on immediate, life-threatening emergencies.
Public safety does not look like it did twenty years ago. In twenty more years, it won’t look like it does today. Law enforcement agencies that take an active role in implementing new technologies will be in a better position to evolve with rapid changes while protecting both their officers and citizens from harm. Enabling online reporting for citizens helps make efficient use of limited resources and is just one step in the ongoing evolution of service to their communities.