Data-Driven Technologies’ Impact on Criminal Justice

Dave Kelly
May 14, 2020

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice to study the American criminal justice system. The Commission's final report, "The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society," was issued in 1967 and was described as "the most comprehensive evaluation of crime and crime control in the United States” at the time.

The Commission was extraordinarily on point about technology. Its recommendations included separate radio bands for police communication, the 911 system, automated fingerprint systems, and investments in computing and information systems, which was quite an achievement considering we were only at the beginning of the computer age.

The Commission also acknowledged the overarching need for data, claiming the greatest need was “the need to know.” As the report states:

"The Nation has invested billions of dollars and the best minds at its disposal in this quest for scientific discovery. The returns from this investment are dramatically apparent in the reduction of disease, the development of new weapons, the availability of goods, the rise in living standards, and the conquest of space. But this revolution of scientific discovery has largely bypassed the problems of crime and crime control."1

When data and analytics are approached in an integrated, unified fashion, they can serve as an innovation powerhouse.

In January 2020, the Trump Administration swore in 16 members of a new national commission to study crucial issues in law enforcement, which aims to follow in the footsteps of the 1965 commission. The new commission even bears the same name.

The "need to know" also carries on as a key area of examination for the new commission that harks back to Johnson's report, highlighted by the Trump administration's requirement to look closely at integrating education, employment, social services, and public health.

It’s remarkable that the "need to know" is still a challenge for the criminal justice system 53 years after the Johnson report. But the good news is that today’s data-driven technologies can realize the commission’s goal and serve as the foundation for reducing crime.

What Are Data-Driven Technologies?

Data integration technologies can provide a single search capability to expose data from disparate systems, such as computer-aided dispatch systems; records management systems; jail records; court case management systems; and criminal history, booking, warrant, and disposition data sources, allowing visibility into the persons, places, and things relevant to improving public safety.

Data integrity technologies can provide data profiling, data cleansing, data matching, and geolocation services, enriching justice information across criminal history repositories and other systems holding a variety of data, including police records management, forensic science, prosecutor information, warrants, or court information.

Operational intelligence / analytical technologies leverage a blend of data integration, data integrity, and IoT technologies that can provide agencies a wide array of insights, such as the best times and locations to deploy personnel, where personnel are located vs. community need, connecting otherwise unknown relationships between crimes and suspects, and improving officer wellness. Insights also extend to the officer level for a holistic view of activity, performance, and community service, for example.

As we are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the need to integrate social and public service systems has never been more acute. Some healthcare, law enforcement, and public sector organizations already leverage advanced data–driven and operational analytics technologies, mitigating the risks and impact of the pandemic with informed decision-making and smart action. When data and analytics are approached in an integrated, unified fashion, they can serve as an innovation powerhouse. Here are examples of this cohesive strategy in action:

The State of Louisiana created a data strategy that identifies and links all data elements associated with each citizen/recipient, healthcare provider, and location. In the process, they improved data quality, analysis, and reporting by creating standard processes for data storage, movement, cleansing, enrichment, and access. They now have a single view of the citizen that is helping the State deliver benefits, while minimizing fraud, improving security, and enhancing analytics.

Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office spent hundreds of hours every month collecting, sorting, and compiling data from disparate applications as part of its COMPSTAT reporting process. By leveraging data management and analytics technologies in a unified way, the office deployed an agency-wide dashboard to provide the sheriff, supervisors, officers, and the entire force with real-time data for fast, efficient, and precise decision-making. As a result, ROI was achieved in less than one year, productivity has increased, inmates are booked faster, and overtime has been reduced.

Hopefully the new commission will adopt a mindset and approach to data that knocks down silos – both in thinking and organizing data – so that we can finally realize Johnson’s original vision for empowering all personnel across the criminal justice system, and improving public safety and well-being.


1"The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society," United States Government Printing Office Washington, D.C., February 1967