Vincent Webb (Arizona State University) and Jirka Taylor (RAND)
Justice Innovation Center
Overview and challenge
Records management systems (RMS) are an indispensable tool used by law enforcement agencies. However, substantial costs are typically associated with the acquisition, implementation and operation of RMS by individual agencies. These costs include, but are not limited to, software acquisition and maintenance as well as staff expenditures linked to the system’s operation. These costs can be particularly prohibitive for small, rural, border and tribal (SRTB) law enforcement agencies, which frequently operate with limited resources.
One possible solution to the challenge of high costs faced by law enforcement agencies is to develop an RMS that is shared by multiple agencies, as opposed to having each agency investigate, acquire and run its own system independently. The Criminal Research Information Management Evaluation System (CRIMES), developed by the Sam Houston State University (SHSU), is an example of such a solution. It was created in response to Texas police chiefs' dissatisfaction with available systems and technology. CRIMES is operated by the SHSU as a not-for-profit enterprise and currently serves 54 local law enforcement agencies in Texas.
Technology and operation
CRIMES was developed to suit in particular local and small agencies with limited IT capacity. To that end, its design reflects the need to ensure ease of access and operation by personnel, who may not have substantial experience with IT systems. The CRIMES RMS offers a total of 20 application modules and consists of four components: core modules, support components, analytics components and management tools. The core modules include computer-aided dispatch (CAD), master name-person identification, and incident reporting. The system’s other modules cover functions ranging from database searches and report generation, to analytical tools such as crime analysis and COMPSTAT, to management tools such as applications for booking and jail management.
CRIMES is also accessible remotely (e.g. while on patrol) via a mobile capacity. Furthermore, the system includes a GIS/GPS interface, which enables mapping and location functions. The system also enables citizens to report minor incidents via participating agencies’ web sites. In addition to law enforcement, CRIMES is integrated with fire-service specialty software and is thus able to provide support to fire departments in the areas of CAD and mobile communication capacity.
An integral part of the system is centralized automated back-up of data on servers at the hosting SHSU, allowing for the recovery of any data lost due to local system failures. Furthermore, data uploaded to the SHSU server are automatically pushed to additional law enforcement and crime data sharing sites, such as the Texas Data Exchange (TDEx), operated by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Conversely, agencies participating in CRIMES can access TDEx data through CRIMES.
Although systematic data comparing the costs of CRIMES with other systems used by agencies of comparable size are not available, CRIMES is generally thought of as a low-cost system. In particular, participation in the CRIMES system offers the benefit of relatively affordable licensing fees. This may be attributed to the unique not-for-profit, university-provided character of CRIMES, which, in addition to attractive license pricing, brings additional advantages. First, because it is not bound by any profit considerations, the system can use subscriber agencies as “laboratories” for the development of new technologies, which can in turn benefit the test agency, and, if the new technology is added to CRIMES, other subscribing agencies.
Second, the system gives university police researchers an opportunity to work on modeling possible improvements in policing strategies based on new and emerging technologies incorporated in CRIMES. Third, by providing faculty and students with access to police data that can be used in various dissertations and other research, CRIMES supports broad academic work and professional development in the fields of both criminal justice and computer science. Similarly, CRIMES represents a vehicle for the training and professional development of law enforcement officers and staff in using technology for analysis and decision-making.
Despite the benefits of CRIMES, subscribers continue to face substantial costs associated with IT hardware and staffing requirements. To help address these challenges, CRIMES is developing a hosted version of the system for agencies serving less than 10,000 people, with a plan to launch it in September 2017. In the hosted version, all data entry, editing, and report generation functions will reside with SHSU and participating agencies will maintain permanent Internet connectivity with its servers. The anticipated benefits for small agencies will be lower licensing fees and lower hardware requirements since subscribing agencies will no longer need to obtain and maintain their own servers.
In addition to serving law enforcement agencies, in 2016, CRIMES started to work on a probation product (Community Supervision Initiative) and is working towards having a fully usable probationer supervision software package available in 2017. The rationale behind the initiative is the same as with the law enforcement system – to offer an affordable solution for agencies faced with high maintenance costs of their case management systems. Eleven agencies are slated to start using the system when fully operational.
In other future developments, the existing CRIMES will be expanded by a new web-based system for use by prison authorities. The purpose of the new system will be to track investigations of sexual abuse allegations and violent victimization in prisons in Texas. To that effect, three modules will be developed with the following functions: retention of all incident-related forms and documents, tracking of the investigative process, and evidence inventory. The resulting system will be used not only for compliance reporting but also to highlight areas for improvement in the detection and prevention of prisoner abuse.
In summary, CRIMES represents a technology solution that has provided a credible response to the needs of law enforcement agencies and is working to do the same for correction agencies as well. There is nothing to suggest that its replication in other locales would not be able to provide similar outcomes. However, the benefits of CRIMES build on a strong institutional commitment on the part of SHSU. Therefore, a comparable degree of buy-in from a university or another non-profit organization may be necessary for similar undertakings elsewhere.
For further information: Larry T. Hoover, Director, Police Research Center, Sam Houston State University, firstname.lastname@example.org