Law Enforcement Finally in the Cloud

Camden, N.J., making life easier for cops with new data management system.

by Adam Stone / January 12, 2017
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Officials in the Camden County, N.J., police department have struggled to access crime data over the years.

“Navigating the system has always been very complicated, with lots of query-based drop downs. For an officer with limited time it was not very user friendly at all,” said Kerry Yerico, director of strategic intelligence analysis. “If just one term is off, it might throw off your entire search.”

That’s been changing. Last spring the county began implementing a new data management system, and it planned to roll out a related dispatch system in early 2017. Both products come from New York City-based Mark43, and both are based in the cloud.

Cloud computing uses a network of remote servers to store, manage and process data remotely, rather than relying on local servers. While the practice has become increasingly common across many verticals, law enforcement has been a late adopter. Mark43 officials say theirs is the first cloud-based dispatch system to hit the market.

In addition to Camden, the company says it has sold its system into Jersey City, N.J., as well as into six police departments in Los Angeles County, including Gardena, Hawthorne, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Hermosa Beach and Culver City. Advocates say the cloud networking approach has several advantages. Cloud can scale up quickly: Mark43 says its tools, hosted by Amazon Web Services, can accommodate literally millions of users.

Cloud economics also appeal to municipal users. Rather than pay a big licensing fee up front, cloud services typically are sold on an annual subscription basis. “We don’t think it makes sense to ask someone to pay us multiple millions of dollars for a system before they know if it even works,” said Mark43 Co-Founder and CEO Scott Crouch.

Cloud also offers potentially greater reliability, especially because of its inherent redundancy. “If your department catches on fire or floods, and your server is in the basement, then your dispatch system is out of commission,” Crouch said. “There are a lot of smaller cities that can’t afford a secondary data center and they have no redundancy.”

Advocates also contend that cloud-based solutions offer greater ease of upkeep, since the burden to install patches and enhancements falls to the service provider, rather than the user. “Dispatch systems go down regularly because people don’t maintain them well and can’t maintain them well. It is too hard to keep them updated,” Crouch said. “In the cloud we can push regular and frequent updates, which means having a remarkable level of uptime.”

These arguments have made inroads in some areas of law enforcement, especially in the realm of data storage, which has become an increasing concern as body-worn cameras have begun to generate vast quantities of digital data. Taser International stepped forward recently with a private storage service, Evidence.com, which uses the massive capacity and ubiquitous accessibility of the cloud to address that issue.

Working the data
To understand the importance of Camden’s cloud implementation, it helps to first have a sense of the place that data management holds within the department.

“We are 100 percent data-driven in terms of our analytics,” Yerico said. “We rely on data from the minute we walk in to the end of our shifts.”

Hard information underlies policing and investigation across the department, she said. “Are we seeing increases in violent crime indicators in certain areas? What kinds of calls for service do we see and can those predict a rise in violent crime? Are we seeing heroin overdoses? We try to match up the location where the drug was purchased with drug arrests and where people are coming from. And we look at field contacts. What vehicles have been to this location recently? Who has been stopped there? We are always trying to tie together these data sets in order to stay ahead, to be proactive rather than reactive.”

That being the case, the department’s newfound ability to search and access data quickly and easily via the cloud has been a significant boon.

“I have worked in departments where they rely on paper forms and it takes 24 hours to put in a report in the system,” she said. “Here in Camden we know what is going on hour to hour and minute to minute and we can adjust our deployment accordingly. If you have a strong data system, it takes so much of the guesswork out of things for the first responder. They go to the scene armed with the knowledge of what they are entering into.”

Next step for Camden will be to integrate that data management tool with Mark43’s cloud-based dispatch system, Mercury. This will allow the police to realize the full potential of a cloud-based architecture by integrating all that stored information with real-time emergency operations.

“If you get a call, you also get the complete history of that phone number and how the police have interacted with the residents of that home in the past,” Crouch said. “You see right away that this guy has a history of violence and so you know you need to wait for backup before you go into that home.”

Crouch said the company’s leaders worked extensively alongside police as they designed the system, in order to ensure the cloud service would meet the unique needs of law enforcement. “We went out on the streets with officers and detectives,” he said. “We talked to thousands of police officers. We were doing product research by responding to crimes with them. That’s really the only way to understand how a system should be used — by being there with the officers.”