Clever crooks don't tend to stay in one place -- it's one of the things that makes them difficult to track down. Law enforcement agencies are notoriously siloed, making it easy for a thief or violent criminal to move from town to town, sometimes going uncaught for years. Recently there have been a slew of technological advancements aimed at improving communications between public safety agencies, and among them is a piece of software called Trusted Information Exchange Services (TIES), developed by Swan Island Networks for organizations using Microsoft CityNext.

CityNext is a kind of dashboard that allows municipal leaders to see an overview of their city’s metrics, and make use of that data. TIES brings together agencies, allowing them to share that information in real time, and in the case of law enforcement, solve more crimes and gain increased situational awareness.

In the city and county of Denver, Colo., TIES has monitored alerts for Denver 911 for the past five years, and for the past 12 months, the agency has used TIES to distribute its data to trusted partners. Denver 911 receives a million calls annually, and now the data collected is shared with the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC), which distributes critical information to law enforcement in neighboring communities.

There was a huge unmet need for information sharing in and around Denver, said Carl Simpson, executive director for Denver 911. “It starts with 911,” he said. “911 is really the headwaters for everything crazy going on around the city. There’s so much relevant and time sensitive information stored in our dispatching system.”

The 911 agency did a great job of distributing critical information to the police, fire and EMS workers in Denver, he said, but sharing that data with other neighboring communities was never really top of mind – after all they have literally a million other calls coming in.

CIAC was interested in finding a way to use the data Denver was collecting and sharing it with other law enforcement agencies in the region, Simpson said, and that effort tied in nicely with local “See Something, Say Something” programs that urge citizens to report suspicious activities. In addition to real-time updates, CIAC receives a daily report of “suspicious activity,” which can help other agencies connect the dots on events that may have been considered isolated incidents in the past.

In Denver 911, workers have a map and panes of associated data providing them a real-time picture of what’s happening in the city. TIES allows them to also share that data with other agencies in real time.

When the idea of sharing data was first pitched to him, Simpson was skeptical. But the lightbulb clicked on during a “principal for a day” program at a local elementary school. As Simpson shadowed the principal, the school official had to decide if recess would be inside or outdoors -- and he made the call simply by looking up at the sky.

Simpson said the incident made him realize that many decisions are made on an extremely limited amount of information. Information on the map at Denver 911 could lead to better decisions by local law enforcement agencies, but only if they had access to it. After that, Simpson said, he was sold on sharing data through TIES.

“It’s not necessarily changing how first responders in Denver work. What it does, I think, is it heightens our understanding and importance of our job,” he said. “TIES gives us that sense of community because we’re really telephone call center. When we can look up and see the calls on TIES and on the graphical representation of it, it makes it more real for us.”

Colin Wood Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com and on Google+.