Police department uses Office 365 to make faster decisions and better serve the community

The Richland Police Department wanted to streamline its flow of information so that officers could spend less time filing reports and more time serving the community. It also sought to encourage collaboration among department staff for faster decision making. The department adopted Microsoft Office 365, which officers use to connect with colleagues and file reports from the field, gain access to real-time information to help protect the public, and work as a team to develop strategies and keep the community safe.

Protect and serve

Resolving disputes, responding to burglary reports, helping community groups—it’s all in a day’s work for members of the Richland Police Department (Richland PD). The department’s officers and staff must work together to safeguard citizens and visitors, handing off cases from shift to shift and alerting each other to trends that threaten public safety. “Communities have high expectations of their police officers,” says Sergeant Darryl Judge, Field Operations/Bomb Squad at the Richland Police Department. “In our line of work, we need to be as well informed as possible to do our jobs best.”

While Richland PD has always promoted teamwork, certain conditions made it challenging. Officers handwrote notes on the scene, then had to return to the station to transfer them into memos, emails, and other electronic formats. “It was a redundant business practice that took up valuable time,” says Judge. “We shared the obvious high-stakes information, but the details necessary to connect the dots in a case could still be in an officer’s notebook.” Even after the notes were converted, the department still couldn’t fully share valuable information across its employee base, which often slowed the decision-making process.

Traveling back to the station to file reports and access data also meant that officers were increasingly at their desks, not out in the community. “We looked for a better way to share information so that officers could spend more time in the field and be more effective,” says Tony Striefel, Lieutenant CCIP, Professional Standards and Technology Division at the Richland Police Department.

Knowledge sharing with compliance

In 2012, the department adopted SmartForce law enforcement software, a solution developed by Adventos Consulting and built on Microsoft SharePoint technology. “SmartForce provided the form tracking and controls we wanted, but we wanted to do more,” says Striefel. “For example, if we were working on a series of auto thefts, our analyst team would need access to officers’ reports, and the delays involved meant we could wait weeks instead of just a day or two for the team’s final analyses.”

Richland PD decided to augment its environment with a technology solution that would support department-wide collaboration and mobility. Finding the right solution involved more than just identifying the best functionality to suit users’ preferences; the department also needed its solution to meet stringent government requirements about data protection. Richland PD considered several conferencing products and analytics tools, but of those, Microsoft Office 365 was the only solution that complied with Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) requirements. “We’re taking our security and compliance to a whole new level with Office 365—one we certainly couldn’t have reached on our own,” says Striefel.

The department worked with Microsoft FastTrack for strategic planning and implementation assistance. “We received phenomenal service from members of the FastTrack team,” says Striefel. “We expected to deploy Office 365 over several months, but they helped us finish in just a few weeks.”

In addition to Windows Phones, lieutenants and command staff use Microsoft Surface devices, and field officers use rugged laptops that run Office 365 and the Windows 8 operating system. Employees also rely on Office 365 ProPlus and Click-to-Run to keep Office software current. “We allow employees to install Office 365 ProPlus on their home devices, too,” says Striefel. “It’s extremely helpful to have access to documentation from everywhere, because crime doesn’t stop when your shift does, and decisions can be made more quickly when everyone stays up-to-speed.”

Increased teamwork and responsiveness

The department’s biggest improvement since the adoption of Office 365 is its success in breaking down the silos typically found in police organizations. “It’s so much easier now to find the people in our organization who have deep knowledge, such as traffic cops who have years of experience with a particular location,” says Striefel. “We can use Skype for Business Online to see who’s available and get valuable opinions and consensus. We also use SharePoint Online to access officer reports, crime bulletins, and other documents without waiting. We’re taking advantage of avenues that we just didn’t have before to streamline our activities.”

“In fact, our culture is shifting,” continues Striefel. “We’re all communicating more—officers and others are sharing documents and getting more creative and frequent with their teamwork. Instead of one problem getting tackled by just one person, multiple people can now help evaluate and resolve issues because it’s easier to collaborate. As a result, we’re improving both the speed and quality of our responses to incidents.”

Today, every team in the department, from traffic safety to detectives, has its own SharePoint Online site to collaborate and store the most current information. Team members store finalized documents such as training plans and crime bulletins in Microsoft OneDrive for Business for anywhere access. And officers use this information to be more effective in their police work. For example, they may pull up photos of a suspect taken from surveillance video to instantly compare the visual depiction on their phone or laptop with the person in view to see if it’s a match.

The level of detail within team documents has also increased now that officers and others use SharePoint Online to share and review files across the department. Plus, having an accessible place for information has been helpful in connecting officers who rarely see each other. “Now that we can contribute to sites from wherever we are, whether we’re on shift or not, we can take advantage of the collective knowledge of the group to solve cases together as quickly as possible,” says Judge.

Real-time collaboration for better situational awareness

In law enforcement, gaining a complete understanding of a situation is critical to safety, and Richland PD now uses Skype for Business Online to help keep everyone abreast of current conditions. Field officers use video calls to present the scene to those in command at the station so that they can determine the appropriate level of support based on the seriousness of the situation. For example, Sergeant Judge went to help a neighboring district during a protest demonstration and used Skype Meetings to screen share so that his commander and certain specialists could see the demonstration. “I’ve also shared images of bombs I’m dealing with straight from the field,” says Judge. “With capabilities like these, we get better collective decision making, and we better prepare officers headed to a scene by giving them complete information and the right resources.”

Faster decision making

Speed to decision is critical in law enforcement. “With Office 365, we have a number of ways to get synthesized information out to officers in the field,” says Striefel. “Wading through forms took a lot of time, but our analysts now transfer data into data sets in Microsoft Power BI. We analyze data and share results more rapidly, which ultimately means smarter, faster decision making and the ability to put crime-solving strategies into place more quickly.”

Once Richland PD identifies a pattern, the department forms a project group and assigns tasks to help address it. Previously, those groups met physically three to four times a week. Now, they establish a SharePoint Online site to share all project-related information and use the built-in dashboard for real-time data tracking. They also establish a Yammer enterprise social network group for the informal collaboration that used to take place in person. “As a result of using the integrated Office 365 services, we’ve adapted our crime-solving processes and can respond faster to serve our citizens,” says Striefel.

Transparency and increased community engagement

Richland PD can better communicate with the greater community, reaching out quickly and engaging those outside the department with transparency, especially when responding to complaints. For example, a field officer can use her mobile device to instantly pull up a dashboard about ticket-related complaints or community accolades while in conversation with a community member. She also can see who’s on duty in a specific area and instantly connect that officer with a neighborhood resident who approached her with a question or issue.

“The more the department embraces Office 365, the more information officers have available to us from wherever we happen to be,” says Judge. “Staying visible and available out in the field has a positive impact on community members and supports our mission far better than working in the station.”

Smarter resource allocation and cost savings

Since adopting Office 365, Richland PD is making better use of taxpayer dollars because it has greater insight into its costs. “We can understand more clearly how crimes affect the community and our budget and take appropriate steps,” says Striefel. “For instance, if we see burglaries increase, we can anticipate the amount of overtime salaries and detective time we’ll need right then. And we also can reallocate resources in the coming months’ budgets to avoid running into problems while still maintaining top priorities.”

Striefels continues, “Plus, we’ll save resources in the form of officer time, because we’re able to be so much more efficient. We’re allocating six officers’ time better—over several years, that equates to better use of about [US]$500,000. That’s a huge benefit for public safety in our region.”

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