FEATURED IN TRAINING
Individual officers & management commonly throw these questions out when asked about how their agency's records are stored & used.
A records management system (RMS) is basically a data-storage system for many different types of records. It s easy to see how access to this vast library of information could affect many different facets of our profession and ultimately help us provide more efficient service to our personnel and the communities we serve. But how do we store this information? And once it's stored, how do we search it?
In this article I discuss what an RMS can do, what's available and some of the potential problems you may encounter with an RMS.
Policies & Plans
Managing records involves creating, approving and enforcing records policies, including a classification system and a records retention policy. Before you begin shopping for an RMS, you must first develop a records-storage plan, which includes the short- and long-term housing of physical records and digital information. Then the existing and newly created records must be identified, classified and stored according to standard operating procedures. You must control access and circulation of records within and even outside your organization. Finally, you must implement a retention policy to archive and destroy records according to operational needs, operating procedures, statutes and regulations.
Consider, for example, call records. Every entry by dispatch for a call creates a digital record of that call stored on a computer system somewhere in the information-technology department. Prosecuting attorneys frequently ask agencies to produce call records, so you must figure out how long you need access to these records before you can write over them. Some areas have laws regarding the retention of records, and the longer you must keep the records, the larger the database you will need.
You also must decide exactly what information you want to incorporate into your RMS system. A large-scale RMS can fully integrate not only dispatch and agency records, it can touch just about every piece of an agency, including impounded-property, pawn slips, field interview reports, 911 calls and everything in between.
Today, you can purchase either an independent, standalone RMS that works with your existing records-generating systems, or an RMS suite of applications. RMS application suites can include records-generating systems, such as a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, and they're more prevalent because much of the software used in existing records-generating applications is proprietary and does not work well in a mix-and-match environment.
For smaller agencies, a flexible, more open-standards standalone system may be the best choice because this type can integrate many existing databases and programs commonly used to record information in legacy systems, which may be paper-based (e.g., index cards), computerized (e.g., a records management application) or something in between. A legacy RMS can aid in the capture, classification and ongoing management of records throughout the RMS lifecycle.
Remember: One of the most important reasons to procure an RMS is to gain the ability to create and use master indices. Master indices link together all the threads of information from the many different data systems that feed an RMS, allowing a user to enter a piece of information like a name or tag number and have the system link all information associated with it. This can include known or possible associates, potential addresses, aliases used, etc.
What's For Sale?
Let's take a look at what's available commercially off the shelf.
Many of the major players in public safety offer RMS solutions with all the bells and whistles. These large-scale systems can cost a lot and often require the purchase of additional adjunct programs to enable full functionality of the system, such as CAD systems, mobile-data components and booking information systems. Some of the major vendors include Motorola, Positron Public Safety Systems, Cody Systems and Plant Equipment.
On the standalone front there is Cody Systems Express RMS, which, according to the company, allows you to integrate your established systems into Express, thereby allowing you to query only Express to obtain information. (Again, most systems are proprietary and require that you use their entire suite to be able to access the data.) Express is a Web-based application you can securely access anywhere you can obtain an Internet connection, and you don't need special software loaded onto your computer. The Web interface is user friendly and easy to navigate. When you input a query, Express displays all hits from the various databases, and you can drill down into them for additional information on each entry.
Like Express, Motorola s NetRMS is a Web-based system designed to be accessible from anywhere. According to Motorola, it provides all the tools your agency needs to accurately record, store and retrieve department records. NetRMS combines intelligent document management with a relational-database structure. You use the system with the rest of the Motorola suite of products, including its CAD system and booking system.
PlantCML's ORION RMS is a full-featured system for law enforcement that can operate as a standalone application or as a fully integrated system when packaged with ORION CADStar, a CAD application for small to medium emergency call centers.