The Gallery: Keeping Citizens Safe: How ‘Policing’ Citizen Data Can Empower a Police Force


As of 2015, there were more than 12,000 local police departments in the United States, which collectively employ an estimated 605,000 men and women, 477,000 of whom are sworn police officers, according to a report1 from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Additionally, the report notes that since 1987, the number of full-time local police employees has increased by about 156,000 (35%).
Those nearly half a million sworn officers are the men and women protecting the citizens in their states, counties, and cities across the country. They ensure traffic safety, handle domestic disturbances, help underprivileged youth, and uphold laws. And the more information they have about the citizens they serve—and the more organized and accurate that information is—the better the police force can be at keeping their communities safe.

One common problem with local governments is that the data they keep on citizens—criminal records, use of government services, property and tax records, health information, and more—is split up into silos, divided by department. This means that the information about any given citizen that an employee in one department is seeing could be completely different than information someone else is seeing in another department about the same citizen.

For police officers—whose job it is to ensure the safety of their citizens—understanding who those citizens are, how they relate to each other, the types of services they consume, and how they prefer to consume them is key. Understanding the high-utilizer citizens (those members of the community who use the most services, and/or use services most often) is particularly important. High-utilizers are individuals with complex behavioral, physical, and/or social needs, who are frequent users of a broad range of social services and may have a high number of contacts with emergency medical technicians and law enforcement. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge local law enforcement workers have, the more power they have to keep peace in their communities.

Feeling the Effects of Fragmentation

For example, consider the case of citizens with mental health or substance use disorders. Every year, more than 11 million people move through America’s 3,100 local jails, according to a December 2016 report2 from the National Association of Counties (NACo). The report notes that in local jails, 64 percent of people suffer from mental illness, 68 percent have a substance abuse disorder, and 44 percent suffer from chronic health problems. “With seven times more people with mental health problems in jails or prison than there are in mental health treatment facilities, local police, emergency medical teams, and jails across our nation have become the front lines for people in mental health crisis.” The NACo report recognizes that this at-risk population of high-utilizers may not be getting optimal care because of the disjointed nature of various information and services within local governments. These high-utilizers, the report continues, “cycle repeatedly not just through local jails, but also hospital emergency rooms, shelters, and other public systems, receiving fragmented and uncoordinated care at great cost to American taxpayers, with poor outcomes.”

This type of disorganized care and service is cost-ineffective for obvious reasons, with no real collaboration taking place to ensure government resources are used in the most efficient and least wasteful way possible. And as the report indicates, it can also lead to less desirable outcomes both for the citizen and the community, with problems taking longer to solve and often growing more significant with time. Effective data management and analysis is critical in defining and overcoming these challenges in communities. The report recommends using data in two ways, early on:

  1. Telling a story – Various stakeholders can collaborate to combine utilization and cost data from sources including ER visit, arrests, homeless shelters, behavioral health services, and so on to identidy patterns of use and the resulting economic impact.
  2. Defining the need – It’s important to then analyze the data gathered and determine areas of immediate need and likely opportunities for optimization and positive change. This is where discussions begin and strategic plans are put into place.

Serving and Protecting with a Single View of the Citizen

An essential element for telling the story and defining the need, and then for implementing robust solutions, is a Master Data Management (MDM) solution that can offer a single view of the citizen, and can help answer the following questions:

  • Which citizens (or demographics) consume which services?
  • Which citizens use the most services, and the most often?
  • What are the most commonly requested services we provide?
  • Are current services effective in meeting the state’s budgetary and long-term care goals?
  • How can we meet collections targets in a fair and responsible way?
  • How can we ensure we protect the vulnerable through early intervention?

The good news is that once the foundations of an effective MDM solution are in place, a single view of the citizen can be scaled up and rolled out to other government departments and agencies, too—delivering service improvements and cost savings across the board. For example, if social services demographic data is shared with departments responsible for eligibility, child support enforcement, and so on, it can ensure those departments have access to up-to-date and accurate data for informed decision-making—as well as identification of fraud, waste, and abuse.

Much like a doctor who must take a holistic view of a patient to offer the most effective treatment—taking into account socioeconomic status, age, previous medical history, lifestyle habits, and so on—justice departments and police officers need a complete view of each citizen in order to understand them holistically and serve and protect as effectively as possible.



By An-Chan Phung, Chief Technology Officer at VisionWare

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