Cover: Improving Information-Sharing Across Law Enforcement: Why Can't We Know?

Improving Information-Sharing Across Law Enforcement: Why Can't We Know?

Published Sep 4, 2015

by John S. Hollywood, Zev Winkelman

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Research Questions

  1. What progress has been made regarding information-sharing within law enforcement?
  2. What else can be done to improve those efforts?

Law enforcement capabilities increasingly depend on records management systems (RMSs) that maintain agencies' case histories, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems that maintain agencies' calls for service and call response histories, and other data systems. There are also increasing demands to share information with regional, state, and federal repositories of criminal justice information. A good deal of progress has been made on developing information-sharing standards, developing repositories of shared law enforcement information, developing common policies, and improving affordability. However, there are limitations with respect to existing information-sharing technology and policy. Commercial providers can have business models that do not support greater and cheaper information-sharing. Widespread concerns remain regarding the cost of RMSs, CAD, and other key systems.

To address these barriers in the short term, we have identified information-sharing items to include in RFPs. We identify indicators that can help agencies determine whether bidding providers are interested in supporting information-sharing at comparatively low costs, and we provide some tips on writing requirements and pursuing new, lower-cost business models.

In the longer term, we discuss building on existing developments to create a comprehensive framework for information-sharing. We identify critical interfaces that have not yet been captured. We present elements to be included in model policy and RFP language related to information-sharing, information assurance, and privacy and civil rights. Finally, we recommend further support for the new technology and business models that can help make these systems more affordable.

Key Findings

Progress Has Been Made on Information-Sharing Efforts

  • There has been improvement on information-sharing standards among RMSs and CAD and other key systems, as well as the infrastructure for developing and using standards.
  • Progress also has been made on developing repositories of shared law enforcement information at the federal, state, and regional levels and on developing common policies.
  • There are strategies to improve systems' affordability, including comparatively inexpensive off-the-shelf systems, shared licensing schemes in which agencies in a region share systems, and software-as-a-service/cloud migration models in which a third party hosts and maintains the software and hardware but the agency still controls and owns the data.

Barriers to Interoperability Remain

  • Law enforcement information-sharing architecture remains complex, and only a fraction of the interfaces are covered by standards — and those standards often overlap and conflict with each other.
  • Information assurance is a special issue; while federal policies exist, it is difficult to provide adequate security.
  • Incentives and business models for commercial providers can be problematic. Some providers see developing expensive custom interfaces as a key revenue source and thus do not support standardization; others are unsupportive because of the reported cost and expertise of implementing standards. That said, other providers see information sharing as a competitive advantage.
  • Commercial providers have reported challenges in gathering requirements from clients, including inaccuracy, excessive customization, and broad specifications to "share everything."
  • A common concern focuses on how much RMSs, CAD, and other data systems cost, especially for smaller agencies.


  • When contracting out for new technology, requests for proposals should include language that stipulates: compliance with existing standards, connectivity with specific federal, state, and regional systems, ease of exporting data, and a chance to test information-sharing capabilities during the acquisition process.
  • Agencies should write requirements that inform bidders about specific goals. They should also find companies that target the agency's size, conduct testing and evaluation during the bidding process, and consider pursuing new business models.
  • For the longer term, a common business process should be developed that brings together practitioners and developers in identifying requirements for law enforcement IT systems.
  • A multilayer framework for sharing law enforcement information should be created that extends on earlier efforts. This framework should include a master data model describing how to share data elements used across multiple standards, software development kits for building and implementing standards, and expanded testing and certification. It should also include critical interfaces that have not yet been captured in existing or planned standards.
  • Further support for the new technology and business models would help make these systems more affordable.

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

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