Police Department Investments in Information Technology Systems

Challenges Assessing Their Payoff

by Brian A. Jackson, Victoria A. Greenfield, Andrew R. Morral, John S. Hollywood

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Research Question

  1. Do investments in information technology yield improvements to efficiency in policing, and do so cost-effectively?

In the wake of the economic downturn that began in 2007 and 2008, public service providers, including police departments, have been asked to tighten their financial belts and, in some instances, do more with less. Whereas some departments have cut their information technology (IT) investments and staffing as a way to avoid cutting sworn officers, others have increased their investments in IT, believing it can serve as a force multiplier, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the department. IT has become increasingly integrated into modern police organizations, particularly for systems related to records management, dispatch, crime investigation, personnel records, information sharing, fleet management, automated booking, and resource allocation. But the trade-offs among personnel, technology, and costs are not straightforward. With this report, the authors explored the rationale and evidence supporting the idea that IT investments can increase efficiency in policing, and do so cost-effectively. The correlation modeling suggested both expected and unexpected relationships between IT and efficiency. For various reasons, the efforts to carry out a full statistical analysis of police IT use matched with activity types using existing survey data did not succeed. However, they did yield insights that are relevant to the design of future efforts to assess the effects of IT systems on law enforcement performance.

Key Findings

Understanding the Effects of IT Requires Examining Significant Differences in Law Enforcement Activities

  • The potential effects of IT systems on police productivity will be driven, in part, by the match between the technology and police activities. In modern policing, how information is used for reactive response to incidents compared with proactive and community-policing activities is significantly different, so we would expect the effects of IT on these activities to be quite different. The authors developed a logic model of police functions to guide examination of the different expected effects of IT on productivity.

Currently Available Data Limits Measurement of IT Productivity Improvement in Policing

  • The authors used the logic model to guide a statistical analysis in an effort to identify productivity and budgetary effects of different IT investments in police departments. However, even the best available data drawn from government surveys was insufficient to break down police agencies' use of the technology at a sufficient level of granularity to provide meaningful results.

Recommendations

  • Future efforts to assess the effects of IT systems on law enforcement performance can benefit from the results of the logic modeling and exploratory analysis. Specifically, it is important to collect data not just on department acquisition of IT systems, but also on how the systems are used and the activities that the use is intended to support. In considering potential productivity improvement from IT use, analysts need ways to measure relative levels of effort devoted to different police functions because the role of IT as a force multiplier means its benefits will be driven, in part, by the force available to multiply.
  • More clearly linking evaluation to how the technology can affect organizational outputs and outcomes — using tools like the logic model described in the report — could provide a stronger foundation for identifying and measuring those effects.

The research reported here was conducted in the Safety and Justice Program, a part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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