The Ultimate Open Source Software Project for Law Enforcement

I have been encouraging law enforcement professionals to use free and open source resources for several years now but I have never been able to calculate the amount of money that can be saved through the use of these resources. I’m not sure if we could ever come up with an accurate estimate of potential savings without a team of researchers but I started thinking about ballpark figures based on some conservative estimates.

Let me go off on a tangent that I think a lot of police CAD and RMS users can relate to. If the vendor is not good, which often happens, there are a lot of parellels to a bad marriage. You have an expensive wedding with the taxpayers footing the bill like the parents of one of the spouses. The taxpayers don’t get to pick the software but they trust that their police department is picking someone decent. There is a honeymoon period where everyone adjusts to living together and some may see hints of the softwares faults. You may find out that your software was heavily influenced by the vendors previous relationships with other departments. Sometimes there is a dark past where the software got messed up in another “relationship” and this causes friction with how your department wants things done. Most decide these are just normal hiccups and the vendor makes promises to change for the better, “Just wait until the next release.” After a long while the police department figures out that all of the promises of change aren’t going to happen but it is too late for an annulment. Sometimes there are nasty arguments and insults fly and each party blames the other for not trying hard enough or not being good enough. The police department and the vendor talk less and less and often they only talk when absolutely necessary. There is a lot of resentment and the resentment builds up until someone can’t take it anymore. The vendor won’t leave because of financial reasons and the police department can’t leave because getting a “Divorce” from your vendor is very expensive. Data has been created and you want to keep custody of all of that data but the old vendor could make your relationship with your data difficult for many years to come. Not only that, you need to find a new vendor right away and ideally, that new vendor will happily move into your station and adopt all of the data that you created with your last vendor. Your taxpayers won’t be happy that you are leaving your old vendor and probably won’t be happy to pay for your new “marriage.” There will be issues with your data and the new vendor and everyone is going to have to learn everything all over again. After all of this effort you get a new CAD / RMS with issues all of their own.

Enough with the goofy analogies. Here we go:

My thinking is that smaller agencies could more easily switch to an open source CAD/RMS and that they would reap the greatest benefits.

There are more than 6,000 police agencies in the United States with less than ten police officers.

If 1/3 of these small agencies purchased a computer aided dispatch and records management system for $10,000 and then paid $2,000 per year for support we are looking at $20,000,000 down and $4,000,000 a year for support.

Because it costs so much money to purchase one of these systems and because vendors make getting out so difficult nearly all of these departments would be locked in to their CAD / RMS for at least ten years. So we are looking at something like $56,000,000 assuming the first year of support is free for all of these agencies.

For that $56,000,000 we get a host of vendors all running on different standards with varying degrees of useability, data sharing ability and performance.

Wouldn’t it be better if there was an alternative? It seems we could develop a great free solution and develop all kinds of documentation and support training for a lot less. We could also let the private sector fill in the support gaps at an equal or lower annual cost than what departments are locked into now. Updates would be free and developed through crowdsourcing. Everything would be built from the ground up based on best practices and would be geared toward working for everyone while being highly customizable. We could turn the app developers loose on this and creativity could take over and drive innovation.

I know of two projects right now that are on this track and I hope they get the chance to do great things.

Tickets is an open source CAD system that has been under development for a few years now –

A newer player showing a ton of promise is Invert911 –

Invert911 is gearing up to be a complete CAD / RMS for law enforcement. Tickets has more of an EMS leaning as this is where the creators are coming from.

I hope that both of these projects have great success and I can’t wait to see the first innovative departments that switch to these systems to see what happens.


Five Things and Open Source Policing

The National Institute of Justice just released a report entitled, “Five Things Law Enforcement Executives Can Do to Make a Difference”

This is really a quick and simple summary of things that are proven to improve police operations and service. At the top of the list is the fact that crime is rarely random and police patrols should not be either. Most people who work in police departments have known this for years but for some reason most police patrols in this country are still sent out in a very random fashion assigned to respond reactively to calls for service in specified geographical areas. As technology becomes more affordable and accessible and as education and expectations rise there should be more movement towards sending police patrol forces out with a mission to work smarter. The first step is to use crime analysis within all levels of an agency so that the overwhelming flow of data that comes into our police departments is turned into useful information. More importantly, that information needs to be made useful for officers in the field and it needs to be acted upon.

Police agencies needing assistance with implementing a crime analysis function can turn to organizations such as the International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA) and regional associations such as the Massachusetts Association of Crime Analysts (MACA). These are nonprofit organizations who exist solely to help promote the use of crime analysis and the training of crime analysts. While membership is not free it is very affordable with the IACA charging only $25 per year and MACA charging only $40 (which includes IACA membership) 

Both associations hold annual training conferences which offer world class training for new and experienced analysts and networking opportunities to help law enforcement analysts and leaders learn from police officers, analysts and academics from around the country and around the world.

No matter what type of policing you do or what you want to call your policing strategy crime analysis is the key component to get started. Agencies with little or no spare resources to dedicate to this can receive assistance if they are willing to ask for it and there are plenty of free software programs and free training programs that can help.

The second recommendation is that quality is more important than speed. Law Enforcement agencies that are overly focused on their response times are doing a disservice to their communities. Response time is critical on certain types of calls but for most police services it is irrelevant. It is also important to remember that an emphasis on clearing calls quickly so that other calls can be handled immediately has also been a failed strategy over the years. If police departments spent a little more time focusing on problem solving strategies and focusing on achieving objectives everyone would win. Again, analysis plays a huge role in making this change and there are free resources that can help.

Third on the list is the suggestion that DNA works on property crime as well. The public has a very high expectation that police will use DNA and solid forensics to solve all sorts of crimes but the sad truth is that in many cases “minor” crime scenes are not processed for any type of evidence. There is a need to train more officers in the collection and preservation of DNA evidence but there also needs to be a realization that we need to spend more on crime lab services to process the backlogs of collected evidence or we need to train and certify line level employees to perform the analysis of evidence to a level that is acceptable by the courts. We can train and certify police officers to operate breathalyzer machines, collect samples and testify in court on the results and we need to have a similar ability for other types of evidence. There is no point in having DNA collected for property crimes if there is no way to analyze it and testify in court about the results. Free training is available but more needs to be done to make this third recommendation realistic.

Fourth up is the fact that (public) perceptions matter. This is a key principal of open source policing. If the public being served by a law enforcement agency does not support that agency then there will only be failure. Every employee of a police agency needs to realize that the public won’t blindly support the police. Officers and agencies that realize the value of treating people with respect and really listening to what the good people in their community want will always be more successful than those who believe they can go it alone. Social media has opened up many new ways to listen to the public and to educate the public so that they can make better informed decisions about their police agencies. The days of the thug police officer are over as are the days of the anti-police reporter or news agency telling one sided stories. We are in a new age where we can open up more to the public and explain to them why things are done in a certain way and we can counteract false stories in a way that was never possible in the past. Police and the news media will be held to a level of accountability never seen in our history. Conditions have never been better for police, the media and the public to work together to share as much information as possible and to work together to solve problems. Police agencies that don’t realize this will fall behind and suffer.

Finally, our fifth recommendation is to make officer safety and wellness a priority. This is excellent advice as communities that take care of their officers will be better taken care of by their officers. There are many opportunities to implement what the research shows are best practices in order to improve officer wellness and morale and the added benefit is that society can save a lot of time, money and resources.

It is a great time in policing and despite years of budget cuts we are constantly improving in all areas due to technology and the information that is now available to us. Every member of the public can learn more about policing than was ever possible and every member of a police agency can take advantage of a number of free resources to improve their knowledge and skills. Police have more opportunities to communicate with and learn from each other and to work more closely with the public than ever before. I suggest checking out the Five Things page and looking at all of the free and low cost resources available. Police executives should follow the advice on this page and members of the public should make it clear that they expect their police agencies use these best practices.


Predictive Policing

Predictive Policing

What would happen if we could predict crime before it happened?

The hottest buzz phrase in law enforcement right now is, “Predictive Policing.”  Ever since these words came out of Bill Brattons’ mouth while he testified in front of Congress on September 24, 2009 we have seen a great deal of interest in this idea.  While the idea is not entirely new and the definition is still being worked over the positive aspect of all of this discussion is that police departments are more and more realizing that they can have a huge impact on crime.

It was only recently that we were collectively throwing our hands up into the air and blaming high crime rates on things like poverty, poor education and the erosion of family values. While all of these things may contribute to crime, crime still comes down to having a victim, an offender and an opportunity.  Now we are looking at the very real possibility of a paradigm shift in law enforcement whereby all police and community leaders start applying analysis and crime prevention strategies to the problems of crime. With predictive policing we are looking at the three components of the crime triangle. We are applying analytical techniques to learn about where victims are and when they are being victimized; where and when the opportunities are occurring and we are deeply studying the habits of our offenders, both known and unknown.

The fact is that we can make calculated predictions on when and where crime will happen and who has a higher chance of being a victim.  With this information we can develop strategies to keep the three components of the crime triangle from coming together and make sure less people suffer.

I predict that Predictive Policing will become a normal part of even the smallest law enforcement agencies well into the future.

How does Open Source Policing fit into this future? Open Source software will provide free or affordable analytical tools to smaller departments so they can hop on the bandwagon. Free Web 2.0 technology will provide channels to share data between departments and to train practitioners in the techniques of analysis and crime prevention. This free technology will also allow police to educate the public and to allow everyone and anyone to see where and when crime is happening.  Finally, the public’s fears of a “Minority Report” type agency arresting people before they commit crimes can be put at ease with education, transparency and openness.

There is a lot going on in Predictive Policing right now and this is an exciting time in law enforcement. Notice the links to Web 2.0 sites on the DOJ website: USDOJ Blog entry on Predictive Policing




Better Policing Through Collaboration

Open Source Policing

Who, what, where, when, why, how?

I am a police lieutenant in a town in Massachusetts.  I am not a college professor or a philosopher and I have never published a book.  I have nothing to sell but I have an idea that I want to share.  The idea is called Open Source Policing.

Open Source Policing involves the gathering and distribution of free educational resources, training materials, software, intelligence resources and law enforcement information to local police agencies,police officers and the general public.

It seems that a lot of what drives modern policing in the United States is funding.  The best examples that we saw of this were during the hay days of the Community Policing Movement in the 90′s and then the Post 9/11 era focus on Homeland Security.  Due to the recent recession we are now entering an era of making due with less.  Our local government budgets are being slashed, our state governments are in a financial free fall and the federal funds aren’t exactly pouring in.

Quality policing costs a lot of money and cutting quality in law enforcement is just not a good idea.  Police need to keep up to date with the latest training, techniques and technology.  There is also a constant need to build inroads into communities and to improve communications and interoperability with other agencies.  If you want a proactive police department that does all of these things efficiently with the latest technology you will find a lot of high-priced vendors out there who are very happy to take lots of your money.  Open Source Policing can provide free solutions to address the needs of a modern police department that doesn’t have the resources to throw money at every problem.

Open Source Policing comes from the ideas behind the Open Source Software movement, the Open Content movement as well as the ideas behind Open Source Governance.  Open Source Policing is actually a pretty simple idea and many resources are already available to us.  I hope this site is used by many to spread and build upon this idea and make policing better for everyone.

I hope that you find this useful and please feel free to share your ideas and contribute your own resources to help.

Thank you,

-Glen Mills
Open Source Policing