Digital records management can give police forces an edge
Few officers relish the opportunity to complete paperwork and administrative duties. It’s not the most glamorous function of law enforcement, but proper documentation and recording of information is critical to prove the authenticity of evidence and integrity of investigations. By digitizing records, taking some of the “paper” out of paperwork, information becomes more searchable, auditable and reliable, while reducing the administrative burden on officers.
Digital records can also generate massive efficiencies and insights — but first we must be assured that a trustworthy record keeping system is in place.
Steps to securing trust in digital records
Chain of custody and proper evidence collection is well understood for physical evidence, and we need to establish a similar regime for digital evidence. This can be done by a solid system design that includes policies and procedures, automation and well-trained personnel. Officers need to have confidence when they submit notes or records that the system will work as it should, protecting and preserving the integrity of the information.
When evidence is digital, the way in which this evidence is captured and stored is a matter of concern to courts. It is crucial that the right policies, procedures and auditing are in place to demonstrate accuracy and reliability of the digital record keeping system. Documentation and clarity of the process is critical to establishing trustworthiness of electronic evidence to the courts.
There have been Canadian cases where expert records management witnesses were called on to explain these processes. Courts have questioned the fidelity of images, the process for storing digital breathalyzer results, and the accuracy of maintenance records for police equipment. Historical access records, audit trails and proper identity and authorization regimes can make digital records more secure than their paper-based counterparts. It can lead to an undesired outcome when an improperly followed procedure negatively impacts a case.
The Sedona Canada principles lay out the established guidelines for data collection and storage. Federal, provincial and municipal privacy laws guide the use of personal information with special provisions for law related aspects, and the Canadian Government Standards Board has just released a new edition of CAN/CGSB-72.34 Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence which provides guidance on how organizations can maximize the probability of admissibility and strengthen the credibility given to its digital electronic records and documents as evidence. A properly designed and implemented digital records system can care for these aspects automatically, minimizing complex manual processes.
Compliance and security by design
Organizations that have successfully implemented digital records management reap the benefits of more searchable, accessible, secure and shareable information.
Digital information is significantly more accessible than physical records, which are difficult to store and share, and often more difficult to track and demonstrate chain of custody.
Enhanced tracking of digital records can also proactively facilitate compliance with the rules of evidence. Administrators can create permissions based on each user’s needs, privileges and role. They can track who has looked at what information and how it was accessed (for example, if the file was downloaded, edited or simply viewed). From an information security perspective, these details are critical and can assist internal investigations and deter information leaks.
Prepping for a world opportunity with analytics and open data
Digitization creates new opportunities to derive insight from information. What may have previously been a static archive can now be a new source for investigative insight, correlating data in ways that cannot be done with physical reports. Digital records help facilitate the flow of information from different police services, helping to improve success rates for investigations. Finding patterns and trends from historic data can help shed new light on the social or community indicators of criminality, helping officers and administrators better understand their communities.
As governments work to open more and more data to the public, police forces can help the communities they serve understand law enforcement activity within their jurisdictions. Open data initiatives like those in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, or globally in the U.K. can help open dialogue, increase transparency and engage the community. Data can be a powerful tool in building new links between civil society, vulnerable communities, police forces and other government services or policy makers.
A trusted digital records management regime is the first step in generating insight from police data. With digitization of records and digital evidence becoming more widely accepted, law enforcement agencies that adopt the practice will begin to see benefits of making information more searchable, accessible, reliable and secure.
With the right mix of technology, policy and procedure, digital records management can bring significant advantages
Tracy Caughell is the director of product management at OpenText.
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