Five ways to improve your real-time crime center
Public safety funding in many parts of the country is increasingly being used for real time operations support, including real time crime centers (RTCCs), which are also referred to as real-time information centers (RTIC), real-time awareness centers (RTAC), real-time operations centers (RTOC), or other monikers. RTCCs enable law enforcement to better respond to incidents of all kinds, marshalling the proper resources to keep people safe and help officers act quickly and effectively.
RTCCs are cross-disciplinary, involving multiple technologies and department personnel in a variety of roles. In order to effectively stand up and operate an RTCC, here are five things to consider.
Ensure your RTCC has a true common operating picture
Supporting the response to crimes in near real-time – one of the fundamental purposes of a real-time crime center – is delayed or hampered if RTCC personnel are spending time searching across multiple tools to produce information like a video feed, ALPR scan, gunshot detection notification, or data from a record management system (RMS).
That’s because RTCC response coordination is measured in seconds. If an RTCC’s goal is to ensure responding officers have all the pertinent information they need in five minutes or less, wasting two minutes flipping between different programs can be the difference between success and failure – and for law enforcement agencies, the stakes can quite literally be life and death.
For an RTCC to truly operate in real time, all relevant data needs to be in a single, common operating picture that responding officers, RTCC personnel, and law enforcement leadership can all leverage in parallel. The sooner RTCCs provide accurate data to responding officers, the better the response will be.
Beyond expediency, RTCCs will always have one challenge to overcome: it’s highly unlikely there will always be sensors, like cameras, ALPRs, or gunshot detection systems everywhere a crime occurs. But that doesn’t mean an RTCC can’t be helpful – there’s more to effective incident response than video feeds and automated license plate reader (ALPR) scans. Historical data on common crimes in an area, for example, can be a vital datapoint. But if an RTCC doesn’t have a true common operating picture, that context never reaches the officers who might need it most.
Integrate RTCCs into overall department operations
Police department leadership must carefully consider how an RTCC will integrate into a department’s daily operations to derive maximum value. An RTCC isn’t maximally effective when it’s siloed off from the rest of the department.
Consider an existing function like dispatch, something every single police department utilizes. They’re answering both non-emergency and emergency 911 calls, often speaking directly with civilians in moments of crisis. They’re simultaneously directing officers where to go based on priority of calls and several other factors, monitoring progress and ensuring timely support, and providing field officers with information about the incident. If dispatch operates discretely from a real-time crime center, inefficiencies will result and incident response quality will suffer. RTCC personnel and dispatch must work together to coordinate the proper law enforcement response.
Even staffing plans are affected; depending on the agency, RTCCs may run around the clock. Leadership must consider how they’ll ensure their RTCC is a 24/7 operation without negatively impacting staffing in other areas given the ongoing recruitment and retention challenges nearly every police department in the United States is grappling with.
We’ve seen a few staffing models for RTCCs:
- Sworn officers, interviewed for acumen, competency, and interest;
- Civilian analysts hired specifically for RTCCs; and
- A hybrid model of both civilian analysts and a few sworn officers
The best RTCC staffing plan will vary from agency to agency, depending on the breadth of operations, current personnel needs, budget, types of crime within the agency’s jurisdiction, and a host of other factors. However, we have seen promising results from the hybrid model.
There are many jobs within a police department that require sworn personnel. Diverting them from those roles – patrol or investigations, for example – to an RTCC is a tradeoff many departments can’t afford to make. A real-time crime center staffed with civilian analysts, when logistically and financially feasible, can help mitigate this challenge.
The combination of a few sworn officers working side-by-side with civilian RTCC analysts is an effective way to staff an RTCC. Both bringing different, but complementary skills, training and experiences that synergize to provide real time support to officers in the field.
Prioritize information before officers arrive to the scene
Many real-time crime centers, in concert with dispatch, are rightly used to respond to emerging incidents, providing patrol officers information – what the incident is, where they need to go, a potential suspect or vehicle description, what’s occurred at the location previously, for example.
However, there is an opportunity to enrich that information, so patrol officers are more well-informed before they arrive at the scene of an incident. Merging vehicle descriptions with ALPR reads or 911 calls with reports of gunfire with automated gunshot detection better prepares these officers.
With more context before they arrive at the scene, they can then more sophisticatedly communicate with RTCC personnel, asking deeper, more nuanced questions to make the most of real-time information support.
Make privacy and civil liberties a “north star”
As public safety agencies use more data, defending people’s privacy and civil liberties becomes increasingly complex and important. RTCCs, with the right protections in place, are powerful tools to fight crime and keep communities safe – and leaders that focus on a creating a culture of compliance will protect people’s privacy, too. Adherence to privacy and data storage rules, regulations, and legislation – which vary from state to state and city to city – should always be a priority across the entire department, including the RTCC.
A foundational protection for RTCCs to consider are data streams that could potentially identify people – like video footage – versus those that cannot identify people but otherwise could be indicative of criminal activity, like automated gunshot detection. Data sources that can be used to identify people typically need even more robust safeguards to ensure they’re used appropriately.
Transparency also protects people’s privacy. Law enforcement agencies that explain to citizen groups, city councils, and their communities what information an RTCC is using, how it’s being used, what access and audit procedures are in place, and how long data is being retained will build trust with the people they’re serving.
A culture of protection and compliance, with the technical measures and human controls like audits to reinforce that culture, enable departments to leverage a bevy of data sources to protect communities while making civil liberties a “north star” – a true win for the people the department is serving.
Build your RTCC with clear eyes
Real-time crime centers can be a significant investment of resources but are definitely worth it. They require time and intention to set up and maintain. But if done well – with the right safeguards in place and the emphasis on supporting operations in the field – they can be a powerful tool for good. We spent most of our careers to-date in law enforcement because we want to protect and serve, and at Peregrine, we continue to find ways to support the men and women in blue across the country.
About Lenny Nerbetski
Currently serving as Senior Law Enforcement Advisor, Captain Lenny Nerbetski (ret.) has approximately 29 years sworn law enforcement experience with the New Jersey State Police and the Albuquerque Police Department, primarily in investigations, intelligence and analysis. During his law enforcement career, Captain Nerbetski served for several years on the FBI Newark Joint Terrorism Task Force, as the Executive Officer of the New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center and Commander of the Albuquerque Police Department Real Time Crime Center.
About Mike O’Connor
Michael retired after 27 years of service with the Atlanta Police Department, now serving as Public Safety Executive at Peregrine. During those 27 years he held every rank from Officer to Deputy Chief. Michael also served at some point in every division in the police department before finishing his career leading the Technology & Information Systems Division. During that time, he was instrumental in overhauling the departments technology initiatives.
Michael has an undergraduate degree from Bellevue University and a graduate degree from Boston University. He is also a graduate of Northwestern University School of Police Staff & Command, Boston University Senior Management Institute for Police, and Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State & Local Government.