Sep 30 2021

Public Safety Agencies Seek Tools to Improve Data-Driven Decision-Making

New technologies help emergency call centers analyze and act on relevant data.

Turning readily available data into actionable information is the goal of Jeremy Rissi, public sector vice president at Splunk.

“In the past, a lot of public safety agencies were mainly trying to get applications to talk to each other,” Rissi says. “Now, we are seeing that doesn’t matter. What they need is to make sense of their data, because there’s so much of it that parsing through it is really tricky.”

That includes structured data law enforcement can access through the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services division and other repository agencies, Rissi says. It also includes unstructured data such as social media content and audio recordings, and it includes data collected from sensors, mobile devices and other digital systems. 

At emergency services, fire and police departments alike, first responders gather data from countless disparate sources, but they lack an easy means to ingest and interpret it. They need a streamlined way to bring everything they’re collecting into a single view for rapid analysis, Rissi says. Generating these insights would help them make strong decisions in real time, dispatching the appropriate resources to each call for service.

“We had one customer recently that was responding to a report of a sexual assault,” Rissi recalls. The police used Splunk Enterprise to compare the mobile phone records, IP addresses and Wi-Fi access points used by three different suspects. “They went in and correlated where these individuals were at the time the assault happened, and with that they were able to make an arrest.”

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Digital Platforms Drive Operational Efficiencies

Splunk is just one of a growing number of software companies offering new digital platforms for data-driven decision-making in public safety. As smart cities and state agencies increasingly rely on Internet of Things systems and communication technologies such as next-generation 911, their police, EMS and other safety agencies see these vendors as partners in data extraction and interpretation.

“It’s about surfacing information that is buried,” says Rod Guy, vice president of strategy at NICE Public Safety. NICE has developed several solutions that collect, filter and bring data together for easy searching and analysis by public safety personnel, according to NICE. Recognizing that many agencies are short-staffed, and that most are operating with a very limited budget, the company strives to help them do their jobs more effectively while also working more efficiently.

A NICE tool called E-Request, for example, improves situational awareness by giving police officers access to 911 calls as they’re on their way to the scene. 

“The 911 call center records and captures the call and then serves it up to the officer through a mobile app,” Guy says. “Instead of that responder showing up with limited information — whatever the dispatcher tells them about the call — now they have all of the details at their fingertips, on their smartphones or the computers in their cars.”

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Data Analysis Tools Bridge Disparate Systems

Another NICE solution, NICE Investigate, provides a way for responders to collect and manage information as an incident is unfolding. Again, they access it through a mobile app, Guy says, “but it’s not just messaging and CAD-dispatch information; it’s multimedia content like video surveillance data or citizen-provided video of what’s happening at the scene.”

NICE Investigate provides responders and investigators with other capabilities as well. Once a detective arrives at a crime scene, he or she can use the app to pull up a map of nearby businesses and residences that have registered CCTV systems with their agency, and then they can simply click on those locations to automatically request video corresponding to the time when the incident occurred. 

Similarly, through another tool in the app, officers gain access to every relevant database simultaneously instead of having to search them one at a time.

“So many law enforcement agencies are hindered by the fact that data and digital evidence is spread across multiple silos,” Guy says. Whether it’s body-camera footage, crime scene photos or the recordings of 911 calls or suspect interviews, everything is typically stored in different systems that usually aren’t connected.

With NICE Investigate, all that information across all those silos is indexed and becomes searchable on one platform, Guy says. “It allows investigators to do more of what they’re trained to do, like talking to victims and interviewing witnesses and chasing down the bad guys.”

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First Responders Distill Data for Actionable Information

Developing solutions that save agencies time is also the focus at Veritone. The company now offers several applications that police departments in particular find especially useful, says Mike Morper, vice president of product marketing for Veritone.

“They’re all rooted in using artificial intelligence to make data and information more accessible and actionable,” Morper says. Veritone Redact, for example, helps agencies quickly respond to public records requests by automatically redacting sensitive data within audio, video and image-based evidence. Veritone Illuminate, on the other hand, is used by case teams to speed up the e-discovery process ahead of prosecution.

“If you’re a detective,” Morper says, “you’ve got all this stuff you have to distill” — emails, texts, video footage, etc. — “just to find the salient things you need to move forward with a case.” It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, he says, “when you don’t know how many needles you have, and you may not even know how many haystacks there are.”

Illuminate takes care of that job in a matter of seconds by organizing the information into logical groupings and presenting it in a way that’s easy to understand. 

“For the officer,” Morper says, “it’s exactly what they want: a tool they can use to reduce clerical tasks so they can do the work of making informed decisions.”

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