The Importance of Information Technology in 21st Century Policing

The following is part 1 of 2 in our IACP Leadership Series conversation between Benchmark CEO Ron Huberman and Maggie Goodrich, Retired CIO of LAPD; Consultant, University of Chicago Crime Lab; and on the Baltimore, Cleveland and Newark Police Department Federal Monitorships. In this entry, Ms. Goodrich discusses the current state, issues, and growing importance of technology in policing — sharing key considerations for IT assessment, system upgrading, implementation, and integration with consent decree policies and guidelines.

RH: Maggie, you bring a unique expertise to our leadership series — serving as Chief Information Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department for seven of your 11 years there. You not only have a great perspective on what it takes to drive good police reform, but also on the current state of police reform technology. Let’s start with something simple: When you go into a police department as a consultant – which you’ve done a ton of times – and you are asked to assess their technology, what are the things you look for?

MG: First and foremost, I talk to the end-users to figure out what they’re really using — and how they’re using it. Sometimes, what IT understands and what the end-users are really doing with it are two different things. I think an organization that runs its IT well has a good communications loop between IT and the business. The other thing that’s really critical is just basic IT governance. And by that, what I mean is that IT is not setting the IT priorities — the business is driving the IT priorities.

Understanding what the goals and vision of police leadership really are, and ensuring that it’s those business goals that are really driving IT decisions, so that the IT is truly supporting those business goals – truly enabling them – and not just being implemented in a vacuum.

RH: Makes so much sense, Maggie. When you think about the current state of law enforcement technology – and I’m only going to focus on the people side of the equation – because I think a lot of people are up to speed on CAD/RMS systems. But when it comes to systems for managing their personnel, it’s a much bigger question for chiefs and others. Generally speaking, what do you think the current state is of people technology systems in public safety? What do you come across when you walk into the average police department?

MG: I would say that the average department is lacking a system to just manage its basic people HR functions — probably for a number of reasons. For one, policing is unique, so it’s often difficult to fit the policing personnel model into a standard HR solution. This is just because of the way officers are deployed, and the different types of things that need to be tracked that aren’t necessarily tracked in a traditional, private sector setting. We see a lot of agencies that have homegrown solutions, or maybe multiple solutions that they try to pull together to create an HR solution — and then they struggle to support that.

RH: I see the same thing myself when we work with agencies. It seems many departments are trying to make a lot of different tools solve the problem — versus trying to figure it out holistically.

Maggie, let’s take this observation and discuss the current state of police reform. I think a lot of cities and police agencies are trying to solve the problem on that front. Let’s look at it using the example of consent decrees that have either come into existence, or are currently being implemented. You were there for LA, and you were a big part of their success story. What do you think the DOJ is trying to achieve when they put such broad goals into these consent decrees — as it relates to personnel management and technology?

MG: I think the goal – or goals actually – of many consent decrees across the country are focused on ensuring that officers have the tools they need to be at 100% when they do their job. That is to have clear guidelines, clear training, clear policy — and, importantly, to know what they’re going to be held accountable for. I think in some departments, this area needs work; in the area of technology, in particular: Do the officers have the tools on their tool belt that they need to do their job professionally? So often, when it comes time for budget cuts, it’s technology and equipment and those types of things that go first.

Technology’s been a pretty strong component in many recent consent decrees, I think, because of the acknowledgement that officers need certain tools to do the job right. The cameras, for example, have been a big topic of discussion lately —along with early intervention systems. And those are things that aren’t necessarily funded first when it comes time to tighten the belt from a budget perspective.

Then obviously, the other goal under a consent decree is always to ensure that the community is being served as it should be — and treated equitably. I think these two things go hand in hand. And if officers don’t have the training, tools, policies, etc. to be in a position to serve the community effectively . . . then ultimately, it’s not just doing a disservice to those officers, it’s really a disservice to the community.

RH: It makes a ton of sense, Maggie. Let’s talk a little bit about IT in your experience. Where were you before the LAPD so folks know?

MG: Before the LAPD, I was a policy director in the mayor’s office in LA — and prior to that I was at a law firm. I’m a lawyer by background.

RH: Got it. You’re a lawyer who goes into policy, and then finds herself running the technology, right? I find your path really interesting, because you were such a successful CIO. So often, the technology leadership in policing struggles in a lot of ways. There are some phenomenal people, and there are some folks who just struggle with it. If you were a police chief tomorrow, and you were hiring your own CIO, what would you look for? How would you think about that? What do you have to say?

MG: Before I went to law school, I was a project manager in IT and software development. I had that in my background. I picked up IT fresh, I would say. But unfortunately, I think many departments force somebody to pick up IT fresh.

Often it’s a sworn employee who’s good with computers — someone who gets handed a lot of IT projects because a department may not have a CIO or head of IT. That’s a difficult position to put someone in. Most officers did not join the department to ultimately become the head of IT. I think that’s always challenging.

That said, I think there are definitely some success stories across the country of sworn personnel who have taken over IT and done it very successfully. I would say, generally speaking, that’s a difficult position to put someone in. In terms of selecting a CIO or head of IT, I think, a few things are really important. One is having vision for how IT can effectively support an organization . . . how it can be used as a force multiplier . . . and how it can really enable the overall goals of the department. I think really understanding that is very important.

Understanding true IT decision-making must be driven by the goals of the department, the business and policy — not wanting to implement IT just for IT’s sake. You must make it really critical. The other skillset that’s really important to have in IT is strong communication skills. A lot of my job as CIO was communicating. And sometimes, interpreting between the IT staff and the policy staff, the leadership in the police department, or elected officials in a city.

You really have to be able to speak in language understandable by the audience you’re addressing. So, you have to be able to go back and talk about business requirements in IT language to software developers. But then you also have to be able to go back to a police chief or city council and explain things in plain language, in non-technical speak. I think that’s a really critical skill to have as well.

Then, ultimately, you need basic management skills. I found many times at LAPD, while I was the CIO responsible for setting vision and the roadmap for IT, many days I was also a project manager on whatever our priority project was at the time — whether it was an early intervention system implementation or body camera deployment. There were some days where I was just sitting down and getting into the weeds while putting a plan together for how we’re going to implement something. I think you really have to be willing to wear multiple hats.

RHYou know I’ve always found, Maggie, that good leadership operates at 10,000 feet – and at times ­– has to operate at 1,000 feet. All good leaders are inherently project managers because they’re moving something along, right.

Maybe you can take us through the life cycle, a little bit, of technology as it relates to personnel management. Because at the time you helped build the LA system, there was nothing to buy. Meaning there was nothing you could purchase off the shelf that would have served your needs, right?

MG: Absolutely. At the time LAPD entered into the consent decree, there really weren’t any off-the-shelf products to help manage personnel, or help manage administrative type investigations. All of that really had to be built from scratch. There wasn’t an off-the-shelf software system that could even handle managing the chain of command of a 13,000-person organization. Let alone then be nuanced enough to track use of force investigations or personnel complaints investigations and the like.

The LA consent decree was executed in 2001. Back then, you really had to build your own because there wasn’t anything to buy. But I think we’ve seen a good evolution over time, there are now platforms that you can purchase. There are new, commercial, off-the-shelf software service platforms that will really enable a department to leverage some best practices that have been implemented into those systems. I think those like LA, who were early in the game, had to build it and learn as we went along.

RH: You were a visionary in the movement. You guys had to figure it out, right? You had consent decrees, you had dates — and you’re like, “All right, we’re going to go be a software development company.”

MG: Yes, I don’t know that it was visionary. I think it was out of necessity, actually. But yes, we’ve had to experience those growing pains ourselves — and we didn’t have a lot of lessons learned to pull from when it came to how to develop personnel management software. So now, I think agencies are in a better position to be able to leverage some of those best practices that are in off-the-shelf products.

RH: Yes, for sure. Of course, you know I think so, Maggie, because at Benchmark, it’s so much of what we do there as well. I love this idea of helping departments think through how to more effectively manage personnel in order to meet all of the reform requirements asked of them — and help them operate more effectively.

Don’t miss Part 2 in our post Early Intervention Systems in the New Age of Police Reform, where Ms. Goodrich discusses her experience and imperatives in developing and implementing first-class early warning and intervention systems — as well as her belief in the importance of having wellness-focused, non-disciplinary support in place to be truly effective.

This interview has been edited for clarity.