The Risks of Disconnected Internal Affairs Case Management

It’s no secret that police departments nationwide have been playing defense in recent months amid the shrinking of budgets, an ongoing health emergency, and calls for police reform and restructuring. Amid such turmoil, it’s more important than ever for police departments to protect their reputations and budgets.

One in five law enforcement officers will be accused of some type of misconduct at some point in their career. Without clear evaluation processes, proper training, and better hiring protocols, it’s not “if” but “when” a department’s reputation may be challenged by a controversial arrest, accusations of negligence, or questionable use of force.

With the stakes so high, police departments cannot afford to risk negative publicity and legal liability.

“Transparency is no longer a luxury; it’s even more than a requirement,” Victoria Mathews, the help desk program manager at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, said at a recent Envisage webinar on misconduct tracking. “It’s a demand from the public and from our stakeholder law enforcement agencies.”

When it comes to transparency, the best defense is a good offense.

Why smart case management matters

Without the ability to access, archive, and share data about training, certifications, conduct, performance reviews, and separations, it’s difficult for administrators to weed out bad personnel and maintain transparency.

The amount of data maintained each year on a single officer is massive: education and training logs, test scores, performance reviews, firearm tests and range certifications, supervisor notes—it’s a lot to compile and review. Multiply that by the number of years an officer has been on the force and the number of officers in a department, and the data management challenge becomes impossible—unless you have a well-managed, connected, and secure system.

Without a way to clearly present all of this information, stakeholders are left in the dark. Gaps in an officer’s history are interpreted as inept record keeping at best, and intentional destruction of incriminating evidence at worst. And the longer it takes to compile the records, the more fears of data manipulation increase. In order to strengthen transparency (and the perception of it), an officer’s complete, holistic records must be able available at a moment’s notice. The work necessary to accomplish this starts years in advance of any inquiry, which is why it is so crucial to improve data management practices now.

A customizable and connected internal affairs case management system can help departments meet legal standards, improve case workflow, and enhance communication between departments by standardizing their case management process across all channels. This helps supervisors maintain scrutiny of separation cases and disciplinary case types in their purview.

With many state legislatures debating police reforms, including certification and separation policies, departments need a flexible system that meets current and future needs.

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Benefits of improved case management

Adopting a customizable case management system provides many across-the-board benefits, including:

  • The ability to track separation cases from initial notification to the end of the case
  • Enhanced communication streams for those investigating separation cases and the ability to store and share that data from a secure, centralized source
  • Improved record keeping with the use of a secure portal and web-based forms
  • Enhanced tracking and improved response time when searching for internal documents and public record requests
  • In-house administrator control
  • Saved time and storage space

Consider a law enforcement agency using an antiquated, paper-based system. If a department has 48 cases involving separation or officer discipline, that’s 48 file folders to be maintained. Finding, searching, and sharing that data requires time and effort most departments cannot spare. Physical storage in one location means they cannot be accessed by personnel working remotely or by agencies based elsewhere. And the risk of loss, damage, or alteration of paper files reduces their value as a legally defensible record.

Compare that to a flexible, digital internal affairs case management system that allows all applicable case records associated with one officer to be stored in a central online location. For example, with the Acadis® Internal Affairs Case Management module offered by Envisage, users can easily review, share, and modify data from disciplinary cases, regardless of whether the cases are open, closed, or in draft status.

Even cases that have been deleted or removed can be tracked, because Acadis creates an audit record of every change. A disciplinary investigation can be streamlined for efficiency, and still be thorough and defensible.

Specific needs of police and public safety

When considering a new case management system, it’s important to distinguish between generic systems built for a wide range of organizations and uses, compared to those specifically built for law enforcement and public safety. A system not specifically designed for law enforcement will not provide the security, data management, and auditing tools that will stand up in a court of law—and could leave your department exposed to negative blowback and expensive litigation.

A smartly designed case management system offers both protection and accountability. Acadis’ secure digital technology is designed to track an officer’s complete activities from training, certification and performance, or from “hire to retire.” It standardizes the case management process throughout an agency and ensures that complete and accurate officer information and performance metrics are accessible whenever required.

In 2021, the transparency of law enforcement decisions and actions may be more important than ever. Anticipating the needs of your department and proactively identifying and implementing a strategic plan of action is the best defense in today’s uncertain environment.

Posted on Jan 26, 2021