Law enforcement agencies and emergency communications centers are continuously looking for new ways to navigate the challenges they face on a daily basis. These challenges include a mix of staffing shortages, shrinking budgets, greater responsibilities, the COVID-19 crisis and much more. But rather than having separate solutions to meet a variety of unique challenges, public safety agencies need one tool that is flexible enough to help personnel with different responsibilities, whether in law enforcement or 911 dispatch, rise to the challenge of their demanding roles.   An online citizen reporting tool is that comprehensive, all-in-one tool.

An online citizen reporting tool is a convenient solution for agencies to receive non-emergency incident reports online. When law enforcement agencies may be short staffed and in-person reports are not an option, this tool allows the public to submit reports from the safety of their own homes. This can help mitigate three of the biggest pain points faced by law enforcement personnel and dispatchers today:

Lessens impact of staffing shortage among 911 dispatchers and officers

A drop in officer retention and new recruits has been a serious problem for many years in communities both large and small. In a 2019 study by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), 63 percent of surveyed agencies received fewer new applicants in the last five years, with some agencies reportedly receiving up 60 percent fewer applicants in a given year. Dispatchers are also facing a crisis caused by staffing shortages. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 40 percent of 911 dispatchers felt additional stress that the pandemic exacerbated the staffing shortage and workplace stress they feel on the job.

Agencies looking to help relieve some of the increased stress caused by staffing shortages and COVID-19 have found a solution in online reporting. It reduces the amount of non-emergency calls into dispatch centers, freeing up dispatchers to focus their time on higher priority emergency calls. It also allows officers to focus on responding to more urgent emergency situations. This benefit can provide significant impact as it offsets the impact that staffing shortages can bring.

Prioritizes safety during COVID-19

COVID-19 has led to municipalities establishing social-distancing requirements across entire communities. However, because law enforcement personnel and 911 dispatchers are considered essential workers, many of them still have in-person interactions on a daily basis. As a result, COVID-19 is greatly impacting law enforcement officers in particular. New data shows that more officers have lost their lives this year from the coronavirus than any other cause, including 9/11.

Maintaining social-distancing requirements while still getting non-emergency reports submitted and entered without face-to-face contact has become a business critical need for public safety agencies. With an online reporting tool, agencies can reduce the level of contact its officers have with citizens in non-emergency situations. This helps to prioritize safety not just for officers, but for citizens as well.

Focuses on providing on better service

Online reporting tools have the opportunity to provide better services and overall experience to those who utilize it. One key metric for this is that both the public and that agencies who serve them will benefit from the time savings it offers. Citizens save time because they can enter the report at their own convenience, rather than having to go to the station, wait for an officer or wait on the phone until someone is available to take their report. Agencies can manage reviewing and accepting or rejecting reports during the day as opposed to taking a call, going to the front desk or trying to track down details from a voicemail. Providing a tool to citizens and agency personnel that creates a better overall experience greatly matters for two reasons. It will help increase engagement and help to meet citizens rising expectations.

Though COVID-19 has created many new challenges for public safety agencies, issues like staffing shortages and resource constraints are still very much at play and will continue to impact public safety long after the pandemic subsides. This deepens the need to have one streamlined solution that can tackle new issues, such as social distancing requirements, as well as perpetual problems such as staffing shortages. The benefits listed above for online reporting tools builds on each other to create a much needed and extremely effective tool for law enforcement agencies and dispatching centers.