Justice Innovation Center
Arizona State University
Communication and information sharing are vital tasks for law enforcement agencies. They provide agencies with both intelligence and tactical information—critical for officer and community safety. Without these capabilities, officers are unable to respond to emergency situations quickly, safely, and effectively. This is especially true in places like the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona, which covers an expansive 88 square miles.
To enhance operations, the 118-officer Salt River Police Department (SRPD) is using a Microsoft SharePoint system, which works in conjunction with agency-provided smart phones. Implemented in 2010 and upgraded in 2014, the system centralizes and organizes information, making it available to any officer with an internet connection. “It is the one official location that all our officers and detectives have access to,” reports Assistant Police Chief Auerbach. While the SRPD chose SharePoint as its communication and information sharing solution, the benefits it has since realized and the challenges the agency has overcome may be instructive for other agencies, regardless of the specific info-sharing tool chosen.
Benefits of the information sharing system
Assistant Police Chief Auerbach finds the system’s centralization of information and documents invaluable because “we don’t have different websites and different places to go for forms, or scattered information.”
Officers in the field find it useful because they can, for example, use suspect photos held in SharePoint to quickly identify individuals, access gang intelligence or vehicle information, and review traffic collision reports. During investigative activities, officers and detectives can access briefing notes, confidential referrals, or any needed forms.
The system assists the agency in maintaining consistency in its public safety efforts, by providing access to information on tribal, state, and federal laws, and department policies and procedures: “If we are on scene and we want to make sure we are doing everything by the books, it’s on the SharePoint system,” explains Sergeant Rangel. And the use of e-forms available through the system ensures more uniformity and standardization of reporting tasks, another major system benefit.
SharePoint is also used to help make staff allocations more efficient by tracking training schedules and recording time off requests. The system is also used to distribute announcements and advisories to SRPD staff.
Cross-agency information sharing
It’s not unusual for the SRPD to be involved in investigations or cases that involve multiple agencies and jurisdictions: the agency’s information sharing system allow its officers to easily bridge the gaps between all involved stakeholders. SRPD can grant other agencies access to certain information on the SharePoint system. For example, in cases involving crimes against a child, the SRPD may be in contact with the tribal, county, or federal prosecutor’s office, child protective services, a family advocacy center, health and human services, social services, and crisis intervention services. The SharePoint system provides a secure and quick way to transfer key information to actors in all agencies, reducing the administrative burden of such cases on agency staff.
The implementation of the SharePoint system was not without challenges, and other departments may want to consider SRPD’s experiences prior to adopting such technology.
First, an effective SharePoint system requires a reliable communications infrastructure, so that officers are able to receive cell phone coverage in the field.
Second, strong—and supportive—leadership is key to getting staff to adopt a new system. At SRPD, some officers were reluctant to embrace the SharePoint system because they had their own reporting habits. To get past this challenge, Auerbach emphasizes that “You have to have the right leadership in the right places that are committed and courageous enough to say ‘we want to embrace this [technology] change.’”
Third, a competent and capable IT department is critical to success. The IT department must be able to maintain the system and to ensure the integrity of confidential information, using such approaches as password protections, firewalls, and server encryptions. One Detective advised that success depends on including “someone who speaks police and someone who speaks IT” in the process. This makes sure usability and data integrity are both maintained.
Overall, the SharePoint system has far exceeded the SRPD’s expectations, proving itself to be a cornerstone technology in the agency’s mission to maintain public safety in the community in a respectful and professional manner.For departments interested in the SharePoint system, the SRPD is very willing to answer any questions and provide general information regarding their experience with the system.