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The Present and Future Use of the Internet
by Law Enforcement --Part One


A report for the Major Cities Chiefs, FBI Academy, and the National Executive Institute Associates by Edward J. Tully and Susan McKee, June 2000

 

Foreword

Most senior police executives know very little about the technical aspects of either the computer or the Internet. Lacking this basic knowledge, most chiefs rely on others within the department to provide them with the necessary information regarding the proper application of this ever changing technology. The purpose of this limited--and unscientific study--was to assemble some information on the extent to which law enforcement organizations are using the Internet to achieve department objectives. The generosity and support of the Oracle Corporation made this study possible.

Even though I served as a Special Agent with the FBI for 31 years and am presently the Executive Director of both the Major Cities Chiefs and the National Executive Institute Associates, my knowledge of computers and their application to law enforcement was extremely limited. While I still remain fairly ignorant of how current technology works, I do have a sense that both the computer and the Internet have enormous potential to make a lasting impact on the administration and operations of a law enforcement agency. Most of what I have learned about the computer and the Internet is a result of my association with Mrs. Susan McKee who works for the FBI and is involved with the management of the FBI's website. From our many conversations about this amazing technology, I have become convinced that in a few short years law enforcement agencies will use the Internet in a wide variety of ways to improve their relations with the community, to solve crimes, and to increase the organization's efficiency. The purpose of this study was to determine how many of the large police organizations in the United States and Canada are using the Internet and in what ways. Additionally, with the help of the FBI Academy, we will facilitate the formation of a webmasters organization to advance networking and innovations in this particular field.

Thus, my role in this research project is merely to say, "Gee whiz," and then to convey my enthusiasm for the Internet's use to chief executives of law enforcement organizations throughout North America. Of course, there is little possibility that we will teach CEO's to be technically proficient in this area. However, it is very possible to teach them that they need to hire and/or train technically proficient people to do this type of work for the organization. Many of our larger departments are doing a great job tailoring this medium's potential to the department's mission. It is time these talented people receive the recognition and support they deserve and that the role they play in the changing world of law enforcement be recognized as crucial.

My hope is that chiefs who lack an understanding or appreciation for the technological revolution going on around them may well be influenced by this report. Influenced to the extent that they will obtain the necessary human and financial resources to harness the Internet's power for the greater good of the community. Following are the results of the survey. Part Two of the study will commence this summer when a representative number of law enforcement webmasters and industry experts will meet to discuss and report on what ideas they have for the future use of the Internet in law enforcement operations.
Methodology

In April 2000, 118 simple surveys were sent to 55 members of the Major Cities Chiefs organization and selected members of the National Executive Institute Associates. All of these surveys were sent to departments employing more than 500 officers. No effort was made to randomize the departments' selection by size or geographical location. The questionnaire was comprised of fourteen simple questions. First, and foremost, was whether the department maintained a website. The remainder of the questions concerned how the site was constructed, how much it cost, and how the website was used by the department. The other questions were about the site's administration. A list of responding departments' webmasters, their email and web addresses, and their telephone numbers are attached to this report as an appendix. A sample copy of the questionnaire is also attached.

 

Results

Of the 118 surveys sent to large police organizations, 68, or 58%, were returned by the May 6, 2000, deadline. Of those surveys returned, 67 out of 68 departments maintained a website. I would speculate that those departments who did not return the surveys most likely did not maintain a website. The only general conclusion I would draw from the response rate is that more than one-half of the larger departments in the United States and Canada do maintain websites. While this is certainly not a valid scientific conclusion, it does give us a strong hint that law enforcement organizations are moving rapidly to utilize the Internet's potential in their operations.

It is interesting to note that in reviewing the sites maintained by those departments responding to the survey, the quality of them ranged from good to very slick and professional. There was no observable correlation between the quality of the site and whether it was constructed by a contractor or by in-house personnel. This, I think, is a most important observation as it lends support to the fact that many on-board personnel are quite talented and capable of constructing a quality site without the expense of a contractor. As the Internet advances and the department's application of this medium becomes more sophisticated (such as the use of database driven applications), then working with outside consultants might be beneficial.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents maintained their own sites while 39% had sites that were housed with the local government's information. Four percent of the respondents had both an independent website and also maintained information on the government's site.

 

Current Uses of the Internet

Currently, law enforcement agencies responding to the survey want to accomplish the following objectives in their use of the Internet:

  • Inform/educate the public about the organization - 99%
  • Foster better public relations - 97%
  • Accept email to allow the public to communicate with the department - 96%
  • Provide educational materials to the public - 90%
  • Publicize case information - 79%
  • Actively gather case information from the public - 36%
  • Other uses - 40%

In the Other Uses category there are some very interesting applications. They include using the site to recruit employees; provide employment applications; post Requests for Proposals (RFPs); post on-line surveys in order to better develop the department's strategic plans; and call for volunteers for public service. One other current use of a site, not cited in the survey, is the department's response to press/public criticism. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department released their investigative report on the Ramparts scandal on their site prior to releasing it to the press.

It should be noted that many departments do not publicize current cases on their own site, but on the area's Crime Stoppers website. Finally, 25% of the departments indicated that they had made arrests as a direct result of information published on their site.

More specific information published by departments on the Internet included the following items:

  • Employment information, i.e. salaries, job descriptions, et. al. - 96%
  • Command Structure/Contact Information - 91%
  • Mission/Value Statement - 88%
  • Department History - 85%
  • Crime Statistics - 67%
  • Current Projects - e.g., Community Policing - 66%
  • Frequently Asked Questions - 61%
  • Awards - 42%
  • Sexual Offender Histories - 27%
  • Budget Information - 12%
  • Accident Reports - 9%
  • Other items - 40%

Some of the Other Items on the site included news releases, professional standards, complaint information (and feedback), annual reports, case highlights, auto theft recovery database, officer training information, crime maps, department forms which the public can print and mail back to the department. In only 18% of the departments could a citizen make a request for records online. However, the departments that had this function limited the type of information that could be retrieved. Eleven percent of survey respondents indicated that they are working on this feature for future application.

 

Site Management

Seventy-eight percent of the survey respondents had a centralized approach to managing their websites. This means that only one person can actually publish information to the site. The other 18% of departments advised they had many people involved in the publication process. Four percent did not answer the question.

There are pros and cons on both sides of the site management question. In a centralized approach, the department has good control over the materials that are actually released on the site. This policy can ensure the accuracy of the information and that the materials are in line with department policies and procedures. Many people can submit information to be placed on the site, but only one person can authorize the uploading of the material. This policy, however, places a significant burden on the individual chosen to be in charge.

In a decentralized approach, the department's many entities can publish material directly to the site. This is the fastest way to get information out to the Internet. Any authorized person may publish to the site at any time. However, the information may not be fully vetted and there may be a terrible inconsistency in the design of the web pages.

It is fairly obvious, that a combination of the above two approaches will serve the department best. One person should be responsible for actually publishing the materials, while other representatives from various departments, or divisions, also work under the direction of what we now are calling the webmaster. As we gain more experience in website management these questions should be easily resolved.

The survey results indicated that the person(s) in charge of coordinating the gathering, publication, and quality control of the information on the site breaks down as follows:

  • Data Services/Technical - webmaster 39 %
  • Public Information Office - 24%
  • Community Information Coordinator - 6%
  • Planning and Research Bureau - 6%
  • Communications - 3%
  • Personnel - 1%
  • Crime Analysis Unit - 1%
  • Inspection Unit - 1%
  • Unknown - 19%

It is interesting to note that a large percentage of departments have a webmaster. This is indicative that police executives are beginning to realize the importance of managing a website properly as well as the high degree of expertise required to maintain a site.

 

Design and Cost of Websites

Survey results showed that 80% percent of departments designed their own sites and an outside contractor designed 14% of them. Six percent of responding departments indicated that a contractor worked with in-house personnel to build the site. As previously noted, a review of the sites found no correlation between the quality of the web pages and the fact that the pages were constructed by a contractor.

The responding agencies did not give good estimates of the initial cost for contract sites. The costs ranged from $300 to $500,000. However, my guess would be that the cost, excluding employees' time, would be in the range of about $3,000 to $5,000. That amount would, of course, vary depending on the ability of the department to provide its own artwork. Eighteen percent of the respondents reported that the monthly cost of maintaining the site was $110. The other 79% reported no monthly fees. Three percent did not know what, if any, fees were involved.

 

Website Updates

Seventy-three percent of responding departments uploaded new information to their sites on a daily or weekly basis. This means they have great control over the timing of materials placed on the site. For example, if they need to place a photograph of a missing child on the website, they do not have to wait for someone outside the agency to do it. The high level of new information also keeps the site fresh, topical, and ever changing. This keeps people coming back to the site to observe new information. However, the survey determined that 16% of the respondents updated their sites only monthly, while 3% never updated their site. Almost 5% of the respondents did not know how often the site was updated.

 

E-Mail Function

As previously noted, 96% of the websites had an email function. This means that the public can email the department at their discretion and receive a reply. Only 79% of departments responded to all email inquiries. A full 87% of the departments reported that they received only legitimate mail. Only about 1% of the mail could be described as either hate mail and 1% as junk mail. Eleven percent of the departments reported that they received "all kinds" of email. I would predict that the email function will become the most important function of law enforcement websites. In the 1930's J. Edgar Hoover used to say to the public that the FBI was as as close to them as the telephone. Email will replace the telephone in this regard for law enforcement.

 

Website Security

Only 7% of the departmental websites had been the subject of a hacking attempt or a denial of service attack. The remaining departments reported that their sites had never been tampered with to their knowledge.

Malicious attacks against web sites--in general terms--are on the increase. Steps need to be taken to ensure that the website has adequate security measures in place to prevent an attack and/or to ensure that the site/information is not damaged by an attack. This is especially important as departments increasingly have web sites offering sensitive information. This may
require either the help of an outside contractor, the purchase of appropriate software to thwart this malicious behavior, or by hosting your site on an Internet Service Provider that has adequate security measures in place. This potential problem needs to be discussed further because as our use of the Internet grows we will have to solve the problems of unauthorized intrusion, privacy, and misuse by those with malicious/mischievous intentions.

 

Conclusion

I think it is fair to conclude that more than half of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada have their own Internet websites. Most people in charge of the site's management seem to be pleased with the results of their efforts thus far. However, I am confident much more can be done to serve the public, reduce crime, solve crime, and build community support through the use of the Internet. Ideas such as auctioning police property over the Internet, controlling pawn shop transactions and providing distance training to employees are just a few of the possibilities. My sense is that if department webmasters had better communication between themselves, that the process of implementing new uses of the Internet by law enforcement would be significantly enhanced.

Part Two of this study will concern itself with the future uses of the Internet as well as the emergence of future problems.

The National Executive Institute Associates Leadership Bulletin editor is Edward J. Tully. He served with the FBI as a Special Agent from 1962 to 1993. He is presently the Executive Director of the National Executive Institute Associates and the Major City Chiefs. You can reach him via e-mail at tullye@aol.com or by writing to 308 Altoona Drive, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401