MARICOPA — Despite employing a smaller force compared to larger municipalities, the Maricopa Police Department is further ahead than the majority of law enforcement agencies across the United States when it comes to efficient uses of newer technology.
Amid a national outcry for police accountability, MPD is using this technology to take proactive steps to address this issue as well.
The department uses a cloud-based system called PowerDMS to manage training and policy updates, and quickly captures officers’ consent, leaving them better prepared in life and death situations involving use of force, high-speed pursuit, search and seizure, and other critical policies. It has also helped the agency quickly update officers on how to handle traffic stops without unlawfully prolonging them.
Officers are able to access the system anywhere they have access to an internet connection, most notably from the mobile computers in their squad cars. PowerDMS houses all policies, documents, training, certificates and accreditation.
Every month the officers are tested on the agency’s major policies. Officers do not have to carry around binders of documents anymore, and do not need to spend time off the streets at the station for briefings with the chief – they can do all this and more, remotely.
Tim Gomez, admin assistant to the chief of police, helped bring the system to Maricopa. He said PowerDMS is certified by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), which was a must-need for the growing police department.
The system went live nearly two years ago, and since then Gomez said it has already solved a plethora of issues and keeps more officers on the streets for longer times during their shifts.
“PowerDMS is great for pushing out legal notices or a case law change that came from the U.S. or State Supreme Court,” said Gomez. “Sometimes people aren’t great at checking emails, so I put it in here and every time they log in they see their dashboard and that they have to read and sign this document.”
The system is largely video based, with supporting documentation, and officers are notified when they have a task to complete.
Gomez said a lot of agencies are now using PowerDMS, but MPD is one of the few in Arizona taking advantage of the full suite, which includes training. In all, the full suite is about $6,000 per year.
On behalf of Chief Steve Stahl, Gomez said as the administrator he can check to see who hasn’t completed a training module, who has or has not signed a document or who has or has not viewed a briefing from the chief yet. He can also see the time spent on a video or document, so no skipping through things quickly without viewing or reading happens.
“In the end, it’s on them, if they signed off they are expected to have completed it,” Gomez explained. “We now can also track if someone received something, before it was hard to say if they got an email or a memo.”
The brains behind PowerDMS itself would be the company’s CEO, Josh Brown.
While working at the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office in Florida in the late 1990s, Brown taught himself to program. The Sheriff’s Office originally recruited him to run the network, convert mainframes and the like.
Brown saw the department bringing in file cabinet after file cabinet stuffed with paperwork during its pursuit of an accreditation.
He quickly noticed the need for a better system and created Directive Management System, a browser-based system, for officers to access all this information remotely and efficiently, instead of searching through a large binder in a police vehicle’s trunk or sifting through a series of file cabinets.
“Our mission is to help these high trust organizations effectively disseminate this very critical content in such a way that the bar of excellence in that trust within the organization and within the communities that rely on them can increase,” Brown said. “Any area where there is a great need for dissemination of very important information to a large amount of employees whose actions are crucial to the trust of that organization, we are there.
“Certainly there are other players out there,” he continued. “But in law enforcement we are the leader and have been so since the beginning.”
PowerDMS initially launched in the early 2000s, but hit critical mass in 2006, according to Brown. As PowerDMS partnered with accrediting bodies it started to see tremendous growth in law enforcement, healthcare, EMS and fire.
Currently, more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies across the nation use PowerDMS.
“Old policies tend to linger out there, via binders in trunk or even email, for example, but an old policy hanging around can be a great risk to the organization,” Brown explained. “Organizations put their trust in us because their system can show policies side by side so officers can see and understand changes immediately.”
Sometimes changes are incremental so employees can walk through those changes and view them anywhere on any device, the CEO added.
Feedback from administrators of application and command staff include usability and appearance, as well as time-saving uses. At the end of the day, Brown said he wants to provide a net positive gain for the administrators of the application and the end users in the app everyday consuming this product.
Major milestones for PowerDMS over the last decade include offering testing on the documentation disseminated, introduction of the training management component so agencies can build online courseware, and the intro of a standards accreditation module that allows for accreditation bodies like CALEA, among others.
“There’s not a single line of code that I originally wrote that’s still in the application, and that’s a good thing,” said Brown. “It’s gone through many evolutions and changes, but the core of the application’s ability is still the same.
“Take these documents in, track them, record who is seeing them, and disseminate them.”
Sharing content is another great update over the years, as well as the creation of the Apple mobile app. Brown said the Android app is currently in the works and should be out sometime in the first half of 2017.
Gomez spoke highly of the constantly updating and evolving system as well. He said the newly updated word search helps him find documents, videos and training logs much easier now.
One of the few negatives Gomez is hearing from the Maricopa officers is that it is unfortunately another system for the officers to log into, in addition to the several they already must use.
But they understand what it allows the department to do and take the next step as an agency, Gomez said.
After some initial push back, the PowerDMS system is just part of the job now.
“We haven’t done a cost or time saving analysis, but it has to be drastic,” Gomez said. “Officers don’t have to sit in the office for trainings or briefings, they can be out on the streets.
“Circulating DVDs the old way, for example, I mean you’ll lose discs, you have to bring a group of officers in off the streets a chunk at a time, and more delays or problems,” he added.