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Records Management Systems: A Force Multiplier for Underfunded Police Departments

A message from retired police lieutenant and Axon Records Management SME Brian Russell

Ask any dedicated police officer why they signed up, and you’ll likely hear some variation of the words at the heart of all law enforcement: “to serve and protect.” Wherever they come from and wherever they work, police officers want to protect the people around them and make a positive difference in their communities. But new challenges are compounding to make it harder for officers to spend time where they’re needed the most.

Police departments are facing smaller budgets and more logistical headaches than ever before, with forms and reporting methods that take too much time to complete — and leave too much room for errors. It’s discouraging both for current police officers and for people who may have otherwise considered joining the force.

But help is out there. By applying new technology to solid policing fundamentals, we can get officers back in the field where they belong, all while fostering a higher degree of quality and compliance. Here’s how to make that change happen in your agency.

Agencies face more challenges today than ever

The 50 largest U.S. cities reduced their police budgets by 5.2% in 2021. The reductions were made partly from broader cost-cutting measures during the pandemic-driven recession, but there’s no mistaking the fact that they also reflect the political response to high-profile, anti-police protests in recent years.

Smaller budgets make it harder to hire and retain the officers that communities need. Agencies of 1,800 often have more than 200 open positions, and it’s only getting worse as a combination of stagnant compensation and stigma around being a police officer make it harder to attract new recruits. Passion is important, but when you’re the only job around asking people to work nights and weekends and potentially put their lives on the line to protect others — all without a satisfactory paycheck — it’s a tough sell.

The unfortunate truth is that these budget cuts and the charged atmosphere just make it harder for officers to do their jobs well.

Impacted service becomes a vicious circle

Officers are facing increased rates of burnout, which only compounds the aforementioned staffing issues. Fewer officers out on the beat makes it harder to sufficiently respond to calls from the community. It also means it’s more dangerous to be a police officer, as you head into potentially precarious situations with less information and less support.

As for the officers who are staying the course, they just have more and more to deal with in the same limited amount of time. That includes endless stacks of counterintuitive reports, and outdated equipment that poorly integrates with on-premise software solutions. If you can barely look at an old Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) without getting a headache, you know what I’m talking about. This can be especially frustrating for younger officers who are tech-savvy but find their work hampered by outdated and clunky infrastructures, with none of the modern conveniences they expect.

These issues all contribute to worsening morale, which inevitably impacts service. Communities take note, and may even feel compelled to slash budgets further, as they don’t see what they want to see from local departments. The cycle continues unless you make a change. Here’s what that might look like.

Modern technology can help break the loop

“Data saves lives.” Those words from my colleague Capt. David Biggers of the Rock Hill, South Carolina police department have helped frame the way I think about modern policing. They serve as a continual reminder that processes should work for us, not the other way around. Processes should help us protect people by ensuring accountability and keeping officers out there doing what they do best. Improving your department’s data infrastructure can have a real impact on how you serve your community.

Here are three concrete steps you can take to get your officers back to serving the community, the reason they signed up in the first place.

Upgrade your department’s tech

Plenty of departments would love a full IT overhaul, but how are you supposed to upgrade your tech when your budget keeps shrinking? It’s simple: Opt for solutions that meet you and your current tech where you are. If your department uses cloud-based reporting, any Mobile Data Terminal that can run a web browser is all you need to implement modern and streamlined practices. Reducing complexity lets officers clear out their paperwork faster, with fewer errors, and return to the community.

Remove data silos

It’s not good enough to tolerate existing systems that integrate poorly with other parts of your process, even if they work well on their own. The more data you can correlate and index, the more leads you can instantly generate, and the faster you can respond. Once again, “data saves lives.” Putting data in the hands of your officers where and when they need it will help get those reports done faster, too.

Foster a growth-oriented environment

Focusing on education, development, and positive coaching will make it easier for your officers to adopt new systems and thrive. It will also make your department a more welcoming place for new recruits, where they can feel confident they’ll have the support and infrastructure they need to truly make a difference in their communities — and where they won’t have to beat their heads against tech that may be older than they are.

You can put your department on that more rewarding and more effective path right now with Axon Records. Its dynamic reporting system simplifies every part of the process, reducing redundancies, so officers don’t need to waste time filling out the same info over and over. It even reduces the chances of future paperwork with native NIBRS validation, which works in the background to make sure data is right the first time, complete with compliance schemas for each state.

If you want to learn more about how Axon Records, or the comprehensive suite of solutions available in the Officer Safety Plan, contact us today for a live demo. Your officers, and the community they serve, will be glad you did.