Automated Information Sharing: Does It Help Law Enforcement Officers Work Better?

Final report submitted to NIJ, Assessing an Automated Information-Sharing Technology in the Post ‘9-11’ Era: Do Local Law Enforcement Officers Think It Meets Their Needs? by Martin J. Zaworski, available from NCJRS (NCJ 208757).

Law enforcement must share information within and among agencies. Doing so increases not only public safety, but officer safety as well. Contributing to better sharing of information is the goal of the Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS), developed as a Web-based network of criminal justice agencies in San Diego County.

This study asked officers and detectives in the San Diego Sheriff’s Office (SDSO) their views about ARJIS and information technology in general. Their views were then compared to those of officers in a sheriff’s department located in the Southeastern United States that has no automated information-sharing system.

Officers in the SDSO use ARJIS for tactical analysis, crime analysis, and investigations, and to obtain statistical information.[1] They can also ask the system to notify them when information they need about an individual, location, or vehicle is available from another agency or officer. To use ARJIS, they stop at a satellite police station in the communities they patrol. Comparison officers must make phone calls to obtain the same kinds of information.

The two agencies also differ more broadly in their use of information technology. More than three-fourths of SDSO officers use their computers 6 to 8 hours a day, while only 30 percent of officers in the comparison agency use their computers that much. Because officers in the non-ARJIS agency are not allowed to use their computers while driving, the number of hours they can spend online is limited.

Perceptions of IT and Information Sharing

Officers were asked if—in their view—their productivity was increasing because of information technology and information sharing.

SDSO officers felt more strongly than officers in the comparison agency that information technology in general increases effectiveness and job performance. Officers from both agencies think information sharing is important, but there was no difference between the two in how they think it affects their productivity.

There was essentially no difference between the two groups in how they saw the role of information sharing in making arrests. Because SDSO officers have access to regional information and thus would seem to be better equipped to make arrests, this result was unexpected.

Investigations, Arrests, Case Clearances: Perceptions v. Reality

Does ARJIS increase case clearances? SDSO officers were likely to think so. In fact, many of them attributed clearances directly to ARJIS. Even though officers in the comparison agency use computers to obtain information that helps clear cases, without ARJIS they have less immediate access to information that supports case clearances.

Analysis of crime clearance and arrest data produced some unexpected results. ARJIS users believe it helps them in certain tasks like investigating, making arrests, and solving crime. However, in solving violent crimes, both groups had virtually the same success rate. In solving property crimes, the agency without ARJIS did much better, almost tripling the number cleared by SDSO officers. The comparison agency’s arrest rate was also much higher.

Any number of variables between the SDSO and comparison agency may account for why the SDSO officers made fewer arrests and cleared fewer property crimes. Differences in how arrests and clearances were reported, and other organizational differences may account for this unexpected result. One particular factor is the management philosophy of the comparison agency. The agency uses CompStat as part of its “performance management imperative.”[2] Officers in the agency attribute decreased crime and increased clearance rates to CompStat, which sets rigorous performance measures and requires accountability from commanders at the precinct level. Officers were observed to focus more on what is happening in their patrol zones, and they attribute that focus to the need to prepare for their agencies’ CompStat sessions. Technology itself is never the sole factor affecting performance.

Improving ARJIS

Law enforcement officers believe that regional information-sharing technology increases their productivity. But the research also suggests that there are opportunities to improve ARJIS and its implementation.

SDSO officers found it more difficult than comparison agency officers to locate data. Information overload can make it difficult for officers to find exactly what they need. When adopting information-sharing technologies, officials could obtain input from street-level officers to ensure that the system delivers no more than what is needed.

Neither agency provides much formal training, and officers from both agencies were dissatisfied with the amount of training offered. Some officers from both agencies said they spend a lot of time training colleagues, indicating that a system of informal, unstructured training has emerged to fill the void. Policymakers might be able to bolster training; formally recognize the existence of informal training; and give trainers additional recognition, status, or rewards.

NCJ 212267

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[1] Electronic interfaces with the 50 participating justice agencies offer access to information about criminal cases, arrest citations, field interviews, traffic accidents, fraudulent documents, photographs, gangs, and stolen property. More than 10,000 users generate more than 35,000 transactions daily.

[2] CompStat (“Computerized Statistics”) is a management strategy that gives local commanders considerable discretion while requiring accountability for crime in their precincts. In the New York City Police Department, where it was first adopted in 1994, a major part of CompStat is weekly crime control strategy briefings in which the discussions are based on statistical analyses of crime reports.