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The Police Chief’s Viewpoint: Technology

Tuesday, April 7, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Providing public safety services is a key mission of every city government, and technology is playing an ever-increasing role in police services. With that in mind, MISAC sat down with Robert Castro, Chief of Police for the City of Glendale to talk tech. Serving for 30 years, he has worked in police departments both large and small and understands the importance of technology in law enforcement today. MISAC wanted to hear from a police chief about their viewpoints on the role of technology and the IT manager in their organization. Here is what we heard.

How have you seen technology change your profession in your career? 

Chief Castro: 
Technology has really helped to usher greater two-way communication into law enforcement agencies. As a paramilitary profession, prior generations of chiefs believed in top down management - administration communicated directives to the line level officers and there was very little communication back up the chain. The topic of technology advancement, however, helps foster communication from the field up the chain of command, particularly with our younger officers. It’s a subject I readily engage them on for ideas on making our profession better. 

I see departments changing to have more open channels of communication among ranks and with outside departments like IT. Chiefs recognize that talking with IT helps ensure the department is up to date when it comes to technology-oriented policing tools. Some officers were slow to change policing traditions and adopt new technologies. For example, I saw officer balk at the idea of a computer in the car and they wouldn’t take the Mobile Digital Communicator (MDC)-capable car just to make a statement. Now if a unit doesn’t have an operational MDC, it’s considered unusable.  

When do you think to involve IT? 

Chief Castro: 
The City’s IT Department is extremely busy, dealing with every other City department including mine. In my experience, IT is woefully understaffed and underfunded in most cities.  As Chief, because of that reality, I believe it is my responsibility to proactively look for technology that might work for our Department and not involve IT until I have done some of the legwork myself. I often take field trips to other agencies or trade shows to look for programs that might work for us, then after that I do some more research. If at that point, I think it is a viable option for Glendale, I will involve IT and ask their opinion. It would be unfair of me to throw them every program I came across and asked them to vet it, that would be overwhelming. At the same time it is crucial to have everyone on board before any equipment is purchased, so all parties are confident the technology will work the way it is envisioned to. 

What are some of the technology changes you see in your department and law enforcement in general? 

Chief Castro: 
Smaller departments are at an advantage because updating technology is not as large of a capital expense as it is here in Glendale. Admittedly, we are slightly behind the curve, but we are making progress. Glendale is in the process of moving to electronic ticket writers, which creates efficiency and eliminates personnel costs. Every patrol car is equipped with GPS, mobile computers, wireless fingerprinting devices and recording devices in the car and on the officer. None of this was around 30 years ago and its really increased productivity and transparency. As a result, you can take a much more strategic approach to law enforcement, analyzing crime data to best deploy resources to prevent crime. And this is always a touchy subject, but technology has made it possible to eliminate personnel costs due to increased efficiency – using taxpayer dollars more strategically is always a good thing. 

In your mind, what is does a healthy relationship between IT and the Police Department look like?  

Chief Castro: 
First and foremost, IT doesn’t serve law enforcement - it’s a partnership. At budget time I am very mindful to not handicap other departments because of my technology asks. I look to IT to provide feedback on the merits of certain technology and really educate the leaders of the City about the longevity, the maintenance and the compatibility of technologies we might want to implement. In my mind, the City of Glendale has three chiefs: Fire, Police and Information Technology. I believe those that adopt this philosophy can forge a great partnership with IT and really move their departments forward.


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