Cover: Fostering Innovation in U.S. Law Enforcement

Fostering Innovation in U.S. Law Enforcement

Identifying High-Priority Technology and Other Needs for Improving Law Enforcement Operations and Outcomes

Published Aug 31, 2017

by John S. Hollywood, Dulani Woods, Sean E. Goodison, Andrew Lauland, Lisa Wagner, Thomas J. Wilson, Brian A. Jackson


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Research Questions

  1. What are the most pressing technology, policy, and practice needs for criminal justice practice?
  2. How should these needs be prioritized?

The National Institute of Justice tasked RAND to host a panel of law enforcement experts to identify high-priority needs for innovation in law enforcement, covering advances in technology, policy, and practice. The needs discussed in this report can help prioritize research, development, and dissemination efforts in ways that will provide the greatest value to law enforcement practitioners.

The panel identified four top findings. First, there is a need to improve practitioners' knowledge of available research and technology, starting with a central knowledge repository and research on how to improve dissemination and training methods. Second, there is a need for practices and technologies to improve police-community relations, both to improve encounters with the public and to improve community relations more broadly. Third, there is a need to improve the sharing and use of information in a range of ways. These include means to get crime analysis capabilities to all agencies (including small and disadvantaged agencies), software development to reduce information overload, and model proposal and contract language to make systems interoperable. Fourth, there is a need to reduce backlogs in forensic processing; panelists suggested broadening U.S. Department of Justice forensic grants outside of DNA to help address the backlogs.

Additional high-priority needs included further development of policies and use cases for unmanned aerial vehicles, best practices for selecting and using personal gear, and improving defenses against active shooters. The latter included improving both suspicious activity reporting processes and efforts to educate the public on responding to an active shooter. There is also a need for a review of technologies that might improve officers' health.

Key Findings

Four Top Themes Identified

  • There is a demand for practices and technologies to improve practitioners' knowledge of technologies and how to use them. At the core of needs under this theme was a call for a virtual information repository: a single source for capturing and sharing law enforcement information.
  • There is a call for practices and technologies to improve police-community relations. Very high interest in this theme is being driven largely by the social and political tensions raised in recent years, in the wake of officer-involved shootings controversies and civic unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, and other jurisdictions.
  • There is a need to improve the sharing and use of information. This includes identifying what information is most useful, to avoid the problem of officers being overloaded with information.
  • There is a need to improve forensic capabilities. Many needs here concerned remediating forensic backlogs and lacks of resources driving them.

Additional High-Priority Needs

  • There is a need to improve a range of personal equipment and practices for using them.
  • There is a need to develop policies and core use cases for unmanned aerial systems.
  • There is a need to improve dispatch center operations.
  • There is a need to improve defenses against active shooters, both to improve reporting to detect them before they attack and to improve training on how the public should respond.
  • There is a need to identify requirements for technologies to improve officers' physical and mental health.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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