Peel police boosts public safety with new records management system

One of Canada’s largest police services – the Peel Police in Ontario – have gone live with a new records management system, which includes everything from digital mug shots to court case preparation to Statistics Canada reporting capabilities.

The force serves a policing area of 1.2 million citizens, and receives 252,000 calls for service every year.

“Police organizations develop plans and courses of action based on the information they have,” said Staff Sergeant Romano Calvano, who also served as the project manager on Project Phoenix.

“So we need to have competencies in the information we’re acting upon because people’s lives could be at stake.”

For instance, he said if a police officer stopped someone at 3 am, and that person was wanted, the officer would need to have accurate information to make decisions.

“If we were negligent in either not updating or modifying that information when we ought to have, there’s a liability issue,” he said. “But even more importantly there’s a risk to the public and by extension to the officer.”

The Peel Police previously used an in-house records management system called Unified Crime Reporting.

Fifteen years ago, it was state of the art, but not anymore.

So the force looked at newer products on the market, and eventually chose Niche Records Management System (RMS) from Winnipeg-based Niche Technology Inc.,

Its legacy system will be left running as read-only, since there’s still information in it.

But moving forward, all information will go into the new system.

“This project was much less about installing software, and much more about business change,” said Calvano.

He said the business change was needed “to take advantage of the efficiencies inherent in the application.”   

The project team examined more than 230 processes – it sent people out into the field to investigate all areas of the organization with a dependency on records management, and then documented how they do business.

“We mapped them against the application, and – by doing that – saw where the gaps were,” he said.

But the project team realized it needed buy-in from the highest level of the organization: the chief.

It also formed a steering committee made up of senior officers and brought in end-users during the vendor selection process.

And it rolled out a training program over a three-month period (of the 2,500 people in the organization, some 2,000 use the system in some shape or form).

“One of our goals was to encourage people to abandon silos of information and encourage the sharing of information [through the new system],” said Calvano.

He said when it comes to confidential information, though, the system has a mechanism in place that will hide or conceal that information.

That was an important feature to certain bureaus, such as homicide and investigations. Niche also provides the capability for inter-agency sharing.

Different business functions are represented in policing, from managing mug shots to crime reports.

RMS is a single unified system, rather than a collection of modules, and it manages information around an event – from someone being arrested to being involved in an accident.

There are core pieces of information about an event, so the system will link any of those pieces together.

“We’re enabling police agencies to reuse the same information,” said John James, director of operations and business development with Niche Technology Inc.

James joined Niche after retiring in the rank of chief superintendent following a 25 year career with the Hampshire Constabulary in the U.K.

“You can then see the details of those events, and from that you might be able to link to other people involved.” It’s like the six degrees of separation – but in police databases.

“That’s a really powerful tool when [officers are] searching for information about their particular investigation,” he said.

Because it’s a unified system reusing the same information, police officers don’t have to keep reentering the same information over and over again.

The concept of a records management system is reasonably well understood, said James, although in some cases those “systems” are 20 or 25 years old.

In Calgary, police officers use a system that’s about 30 years old, he said, and the relative functionality of that against a modern system is significantly different.

The limitations of mainframe technology are amplified by the fact that policing has become much more sophisticated over the years. “Information management needs a much more sophisticated system.”

Across Canada, about 65 to 70 per cent of policing agencies have modern records management systems, while the others are, typically, mainframe-based (with plans, in many cases, to be replaced).

The number-one challenge for organizations is that there’s so much new information, particularly unstructured information, and there’s more of it than they can store.

“How can you then retrieve it, get business value from it?” said Philip Barnes, senior research analyst for the storage market with IDC Canada.
Then there are regulatory compliance and e-discovery retrieval challenges being legislated, which further complicates the problem.

Storage management is still an evolving area of the IT world. There’s been a lot of focus over the past few years on server sprawl and the benefits of virtualization to improve server management, he said.

Storage is faced with a similar type of problem – there’s storage sprawl, there are disparate types of storage, and data is being stored multiple times in multiple places.

There’s a greater acceptance and understanding that organizations are going to have to invest in their storage infrastructure, said Barnes, not just from a software management perspective, but from a processes one as well.

He said the old way of doing things – just adding more and more disks to store more stuff – is no longer sustainable, so evolution needs to take place.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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