Knowledge is Power: Data Sharing’s Powerful Impact on Law Enforcement

“Knowledge is Power”, is literally set in stone above the main entrance at my junior high school.  This quote as best I can determine is attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, an English author, courtier, and philosopher (1561-1626). He penned the quote in 1597. During this same writing he wrote the sentence that, “The more one knows, the more one will be able to control events.”

I must have looked at that quote hundreds of times without truly understanding the deep meaning. Now, fast forward a few decades and without a doubt, I Finally GOT It! Being able to “control events”, like determine pattern, series, and trends involving crime events and subsequently develop and enact a strategy to gain control of said event(s) definitely applies to the simple and insightful quote from many centuries past. By gaining control, I am referring to law enforcement action that may lead to identifying, locating and arresting suspects and/or preventing future events of a similar nature, thus controlling or gaining control of an event(s). In order to develop a successful strategy that addresses a law enforcement or public safety event boils down to having adequate knowledge that will provide the power to “control said event.”

This is where, in my mind, the importance of sharing data comes into play. For the purpose of this article I would like to make a few observations regarding data sharing from a “regional” point of view. One specific issue I want to address is the data sharing issue among agencies who exist in proximity to each other. There is a definite need and in most cases a desire to share data and information across jurisdictional boundaries. Basic Crime Control Strategy requires addressing crime patterns, series and trends. Everybody knows that criminals do not confine their lawlessness to jurisdictional boundaries. Everybody also knows that in order to conduct good crime analysis one must have a certain volume of data, the more data, the better probability of successful analysis. Agencies who work together in a geographic region truly understand the importance of sharing crime data across jurisdictional boundaries. Sharing data will greatly assist with developing solid and effective crime control strategies and gaining control of a serial criminal who is creating havoc from community to community. However, in many if not most geographic areas data sharing is easier said than done.

There are hosts of legitimate reasons as to why the law enforcement data is not shared efficiently and effectively among neighboring agencies. The time has passed where law enforcement leaders of their respective agencies are not willing to share data and information. The “modern day” choke point, according to my research and personal conversation with law enforcement executives and administrators, appears to be multi-faceted. The ever present budget constraints, a lack of standardized reporting systems and the inability for Record Management Systems (RMS) to interface with each other without customized and expensive translation services are just a few of the obstacles. I totally agree and understand that the obstacles are valid and not easy to overcome. However, I also believe that with a focused mission guided by strong leadership the “mountain” can be scaled.

The majority of the present day law enforcement leadership appears to have moved beyond understanding that sharing data and the willingness to do is no longer optional. Now is the time for law enforcement leadership to acquire the knowledge necessary to address and eliminate the obstacles and impediments that are hindering and preventing all levels of law enforcement from truly sharing data across the entire public safety community.

Once the knowledge is obtained and a collective understanding of the issue is acknowledged, that will in fact provide law enforcement leaders the “power” as Sir Francis Bacon so eloquently stated in 1597, to control the event and make our communities safer. Knowledge is in fact Power and “The more one knows, the more one will be able to control events.”

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