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No down time for police IT


April 13, 2016
By Christine Robson

889 words – MR

No down time for police IT

by Christine Robson

Keeping Information Technology (IT) systems running flawlessly and enabling technology and innovation is stressful. We support service level agreements (SLAs) for our agencies and commit to “five-nines” (99.999 percent) up-time, meaning systems can be down no more than five minutes per year.

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There is added stress for IT personnel in policing, who are responsible for keeping so many mission-critical systems running flawlessly 24/7. This includes 911, dispatch and various records management system (RMS) applications.

Unlike banks or private companies with a wealth of funding, police services usually have extremely tight budgets and limited funding growth potential. Politicians, reporters and the public increasingly scrutinize budgets, resulting in very small, if any, increases and, in some cases, no new capital investments and hiring freezes for front line and support sections.

This environment means IT directors and managers have to think smarter, using resources that they already have and looking at shared service with other police agencies and regional municipalities.

Down time is a serious problem because first responders rely on so much mission-critical technology. Fully redundant sites are an option but require major funding to build, maintain and upgrade and staff to keep them running and deal with problems that may arise.

Technology is integrated with every officer on the road – mobile computers, electronic ticketing, in-car and body worn cameras, radio systems, GPS, security tokens, smart phone applications and other specialty equipment. Just outfitting a police vehicle with all this technology can cost tens of thousands of dollars; supporting and keeping it running costs thousands more.

Going back to paper and pen is no longer an option so all systems must have as close to 100 percent up-time as possible.

The IT department manages all the standard operational systems, including 911/dispatch, electronic mug shot systems and hundreds of databases feeding numerous systems.

Newer technologies such as in-car and body worn cameras (and the video files they create), Tasers, GPS, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony and secure storage of ever-increasing quantities of data and digital evidence are now being added to the mix. Technology-based investigative processes like cell phone and computer analysis, cybercrime and security management require additional resources and constant updates in skills and technologies.

This is now the standard for most police services. These are the trends that we in IT see and which are exploding in our environments. The constraints on funding and staff to support all of this is a problem. We have to think smarter, fight burn out, stay innovative and ensure all systems are constantly up and running.

It’s not an easy task and requires a large team of experts and partnering with other municipalities and police services. We share information and knowledge more than ever before, no longer keeping it all to ourselves as in the past. Some of this sharing is done by using the “cloud,” although this is not without risk.

The new trend in police IT is to be open, innovative and “think outside the box” instead of just being a traditional data centre. Hybrids are emerging with the use of secure shared services in the cloud, computer virtualization and removal of physical computer servers.

Police services can no longer survive in the traditional way, as there is so much technology being thrown their way. The old reactive nature of managing police IT is no longer possible and quick fixes and band-aid solutions are no longer an option.

Being the IT director/manager means becoming a business partner and enabler of business success with peers across every police service, not just provincially or nationally, but ideally internationally.

We now look globally to think smarter and partner with services around the world. As policing in every country has similar technology challenges, boundaries are being removed and sharing of information is now the norm rather than the exception.

The pressure to keep mission-critical technology working all the time is taking a toll on IT personnel.
Various surveys across the UK and Canada have found that 49 per cent of IT workers admitted to being closer to burning out now than they were five years ago.

Stress levels for police IT personnel is even higher because of the mission-critical nature of the systems they manage. A dispatcher cannot be confronted by a stalled computer while trying to manage a life-and-death call so there is added pressure to ensure that this never happens.

Although much of the mental health discussion in the first responders’ community has focused on front-line personnel, it is also an issue with IT personnel managing the systems that support them.

We often talk about “brothers and sisters” in policing, referring to sworn personnel, but police IT personnel share a similar affinity. We face the same challenges and stresses as our colleagues globally, especially with those in the policing sector.

So when you see an officer in a patrol car, pulling out a radio, wearing a body worn camera or using a smartphone, remember that they are supported by a large team of IT personnel. The team is there for the greater good and shares the same focus on community and officer safety as do front-line personnel.

“Keeping the lights on to potentially save-a-life” is our motto.

BIO

Christine Robson is the Durham Regional Police Service I.T. Manager


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