Canadian system helps police worldwide LINK clues to crimes

See related story: Peel Police boost public safety with new records management system

A records management system (RMS) from a Canadian firm is helping police officers in Victoria, Australia better investigate crimes.

Appropriately renamed LINK by the Victoria Police, Niche RMS enables investigators to tie the new clues they uncover to previous cases, crimes or criminals.

It also helps investigators more efficiently store and retrieve information relevant to their cases.

The RMS system has been designed by Winnipeg-based Niche Technology Inc.

It’s so popular with the Victoria police that they are using it to replace their legacy Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP), which lacks today’s modern security checks and isn’t as efficient at running searches.

LINK will help officers streamline crime reports, traffic collisions, arrest warrants, booking and bail charges, court documents, licenses and permits, and evidence. 

The software transformation complements a cultural shift happening within the force over the last few years, according to Darrell Stephenson, superintendent with the Victoria Police.   

The state’s goal, he said, is to ensure members use records management tools to do their jobs effectively, rather than abuse them by running personal checks on their vehicles, looking up friends or associates out of curiosity, or viewing files outside the scope of their authority.  

A big problem with the legacy LEAP system is it didn’t provide any way of knowing which personnel were viewing, printing, updating, or sharing data on their system, Stephenson said.

By contrast, he said, LINK will improve visibility into how officers are using the system. Its audit capabilities will allow officers to track who looks at what data, what information was printed, whether that person has the authority to seek information, and why.

It will also give top personnel the ability to block access to secret evidence related to an investigation.

While the Victoria Police’s installation won’t be complete until the fall of this year, the organization’s cultural improvements have already resulted in a drop in security breaches

In 2007-2008, there were 26 breaches, down from 47 in the previous year. 

And the Victoria police is one of many global police organizations that use Niche RMS to enhance investigative and records monitoring capabilities.

In Canada, most recently, Ontario’s Peel regional police force has opted for the system to ensure critical data is securely entered and stored, and not tampered with.

Peel Region serves 1.2 million residents in the cities of Mississauga and Brampton, Ont.

“We act every day on available information. So if that data isn’t accurate or current, we could be making some serious mistakes out there,” said acting staff sergeant and project manager Roman Calvano, explaining why Niche was selected.

The ability to link disparate pieces of information together into a recognizable pattern is another advantage Niche RMS offers, which Peel and Victoria’s previous systems didn’t.

This ability helps investigators solve crimes faster.

Niche RMS also offers serves as an early warning system for investigators visiting a questionable address or suspect.

For instance, an investigator runs a query on a particular address — whether a home or business — all available data on the people who live or work there, as well as other cases about that street, would be pulled up through the search. 

“Its search capability is amazing,” said Stephenson. He said previously obtaining such information would take an enormous amount of leg work.
“But it’s available at our finger tips.”

The superintendent said the Victoria Police had looked at several records management systems before choosing Niche.

The fact that the RMS was already being successfully used at several big police organizations across Canada, and Australia, was a big factor in its favour.

And even though policing is slightly different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the application includes a configuration layer that allows each force to customize it to its specific needs.

The system’s scalability was of vital importance to the Victoria Police – which is the second largest police force in Australia, said John James, director of operations and business development at Niche Technology Inc.

He said Niche has used its experience with a broad range of law enforcement outfits — including Peel, the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP, and several forces across the U.K. —  to refine the Niche product.

Complexity has been reduced for users. “Officers don’t have to learn many different systems, and all of their policing information is in one place.”

That’s a far cry from when all of that data would reside in multiple systems, “which is hugely inefficient.”

In some implementations, consolidation achieved has been pretty dramatic.

For instance, James cited a rollout in North Wales that integrated 45 systems in to one, and another in Queensland, Australia that eliminated 234 systems.

The ability to connect disparate pieces of data at many levels is a key benefit of Niche RMS, according to a Canadian analyst.

This capacity to string incidents together and identify connections is far greater than what you get with a paper-driven system, said George Goodall, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London Ont.

Another benefit, he said, is Niche RMS’ replacement of a labour-intensive, manual process with an automated one and improving trending analysis that enables officers to identify chain relationships between crimes.

“A lot of police forces run manual or obsolete systems, based on an outdated notion of how crime happens: one victim, one perpetrator. But that’s not applicable in family [or certain other types of] crime.”   

He said Niche’s enhanced security is also something police forces will find very useful.

Security features, such as user authentication are surprisingly lax in police departments, he said, primarily because of funding.

“IT is always under the gun. It seems strange for police forces to have poor security, but it’s true of a lot of enforcement agencies; LINK offers modern architecture capabilities around authentication.”

Goodall noted that police data has certain unique characteristics.

Police information is incident-based and doesn’t require a general section for accounts payable, invoice tracking, and so on.

Instead, items related to incidents, such as number of individuals arrested, bystanders, locations, and a variety of legal codes need to be stored, and Niche RMS offers this capability. 

The only potential drawnbacks of an RMS rollout, said the Info-Tech analyst, is the cost of software and disruption. But he said police departments should look whether the advantages make it worthwhile.

Peel Police project manager, Calvano, said their installation took about three months, and the application was very easy to use, especially for newer recruits. Victoria Police are beginning their deployment this month and hope to complete it by November, a small price to pay for a more modern, expandable system, Victoria’s superintendent said. 

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