10 Tips for Fulfilling Audio and Evidence Requests 50% Faster

Every day emergency communications centers around the world handle tens of thousands of calls. The ability to capture these communications and actions is critical to understanding what really happened. Recordings can make or break investigations, and provide compelling and irrefutable evidence in court. It’s no wonder then that many 9-1-1 centers process upwards of a hundred audio reproduction requests a month. Requests come from all directions: investigators, DAs, public defenders, private attorneys, the media, even private citizens. The problem is – far too many centers still rely on outdated technology and inefficient processes to do this work, which wastes time, and creates unnecessary backlogs and costs.

If this problem sounds familiar, here are 10 tips to help your center fulfill audio and evidence requests, and related work, 50% faster.

TIP 1: Integrate your recording & CAD systems

The typical process of producing audio reproductions can be quite taxing. No one knows this better than Karin Marquez, Communications Supervisor for the Westminster (CO) Police Department. That’s why Marquez deployed new technology from NICE that integrates the department’s recording and Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems. Westminster saw an immediate 50% improvement in efficiency and time savings. Now, reproduction requests can be processed in hours rather than business days.

As a supervisor, Marquez is accustomed to working in multiple systems to do her job. Prior to deploying the newest release of NICE Inform she had to go back and forth between the CAD and the recording system to process reproduction requests. “We’d get a request from a detective or the DA’s office for all the 9-1-1 calls associated with a case, and we’d first have to go into CAD and read through the chronology to verify when the call came in, what position it came in on, as well as looking for any subsequent calls that may have come in on other positions,” she said. “Then we’d have to log on to the recording system separately, and search for each and every call by time, date and position, and listen to them. It was a highly manual process, and prone to error.”

Now, when Marquez receives requests, she simply logs on to NICE Inform, types in a case number, and the system instantly retrieves all of the related audio recordings. The recordings are merged onto a timeline, along with CAD event data showing a complete chronology of the event – including when calls came in, and when units were dispatched and arrived on scene.

“It takes the guesswork out of trying to match CAD records to audio recordings – it does it for me automatically,” she said.

TIP 2: Record Operator Workstation Screens

The world of public safety communications is getting more complex every day. Public safety telecommunicators interact with a plethora of systems – everything from CAD to computer-based telephone systems, radio systems, databases, and more. In their day-to-day work, they handle hundreds of different kinds of calls, each requiring different protocols and processes. A single miss-step, a single miscommunication or system glitch can have disastrous consequences. And when miss-steps do occur, it can be difficult to get to the heart of the problem. Was it telecommunicator error? A flawed process? A bug in a system? Unless you’re able to retrace every step, every word, and every telecommunicator action, it can be difficult to say.

That’s why more and more PSAPs are starting to supplement audio recording with screen recording. Capturing screen activity is essential to understanding how the operator managed a response to an emergency call.

Todd Neumann, Deputy Director of 9-1-1 Technology for Bucks County Emergency Communications, can attest to this. “When nothing glaring stands out that would prevent the dispatcher from timely action, investigation can become elusive,” he said. “NICE’s screen capture is fantastic for investigations of complaints. Instead of tedious mining through hundreds of pages of data logs, we just play a 5-minute screen video clip to find out what caused a delay in call answer or dispatch.”

According to NICE’s Patrick Botz,9-1-1 centers should also consider integrating screen recording into their Quality Assurance programs. “Screen recording can give PSAPs better visibility into their telecommunicators’ overall effectiveness and better equip managers to identify issues related to procedures and training gaps, so they can resolve those issues faster,” he said.

In fact, Boston PD will soon be deploying screen recording, synchronized with voice recordings, to better understand what happens during calls. "It's going to be a great tool for us for QA and training," said Boston PD’s Shawn Romanoski, Director of Telecommunications. "If something goes wrong, we'll be able to understand why and correct it."

TIP 3: Take advantage of reconstruction efficiency tools

Before releasing audio recordings, especially those that will be made public, many departments will redact sensitive or personal information. For audio records custodians, this can be a laborious process, as Sheryl Hughes, Records Custodian for the Harris County (TX) Sheriff’s Office, can attest.

“Before, you’d have to write down the start and end times and go in and manually remove the audio; if you messed up, you’d have to start the whole process all over,” she said. Now, using the built-in redaction tools within NICE Inform, the process is much quicker and easier.  Using the redaction feature, Hughes can easily ‘bleep out’ a sensitive or confidential section of audio. “You can just bleep over it, by picking the range you want to redact and hitting a button – it’s that easy!”

TIP 4: Use GIS maps to find incident recordings faster

“As the public safety industry moves toward Next Gen 9-1-1, we’re starting to get more connectivity; but Next Gen isn’t just about IP, it’s also about location data,” said Botz. “And PSAPs are going to want to put that location data to good use. One way to do that is to integrate mapping and location information into the recorder interface.”

In addition to integrating with CAD, NICE Inform can also integrate with mapping solutions. This means that beyond searching for audio recordings using traditional meta-data like time and date, and enhanced meta-data from CAD, audio records custodians can search for calls, 9-1-1 text messages and CAD incidents, by simply drawing a box over a specific area of a map.

TIP 5: Don’t forget to include 9-1-1 texts

It ha​s been almost three and a half years since the four major carriers in the U.S. – Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile – all voluntarily committed to providing text-to-9-1-1 service. Since that time, text-to-9-1-1 deployments across​ the U.S. have steadily increased. While we're a far cry from widespread adoption, it's fair to say the industry is on a slow but steady march to progress.

If your agency is one of the handful of PSAPs that accepts 9-1-1 texts, it’s time to think about how to record and reproduce those 9-1-1 texts as well. When text-to-9-1-1 adoption and volume starts to pick up, it won’t be long before investigators and DAs start asking for those reproductions too.

Public Safety agencies would never think twice about recording every 9-1-1 call, even though they may only need to retrieve one call out of a thousand for legal documentation," said Anita Pitt, 9-1-1 Program Manager, Brazos Valley Council of Governments (BVCOG). "Agencies need to put the same emphasis on recording 9-1-1 Texts. NICE Inform provides our 9-1-1 centers with complete legal documentation of SMS 9-1-1 Texts, should they need it. It captures exactly what we need in exactly the right format.

NICE Inform goes beyond simply capturing 9-1-1 Texts to enable BVCOG to easily search for, retrieve, export, save and share text conversations, and associated metadata, for investigations. BVCOG 9-1-1 supervisors and records custodians can export and save complete text conversations in various formats (.txt, .pdf, .csv) along with complete metadata (e.g. caller ID, location, date/time stamps, etc.), for comprehensive insight into who texted, from where and when, and what was said.

"Text recording shouldn't be an afterthought," said Botz. “Text recordings should be managed the same way as other multimedia recordings, and through the same system. You want to be able to combine all of your multimedia – SMS texts, 9-1-1 and radio calls, screen recordings, GIS and CAD incident data – into one incident timeline to get the complete context of an incident.”

TIP 6: Eliminate duplicate work using the ‘Organizer’ approach

Botz also says that solutions like NICE Inform Organizer can eliminate duplicate work. Essentially, Organizer is a digital evidence management folder system for audio reproduction requests.

One agency having success with this approach is the Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LVMPD) The LVMPD processes some 400 audio reproduction requests per month. Staci Fason, a Research Assistant for LVMPD’s Communications Bureau explained: “Typically, one in every four requests for evidence we receive are for the same recordings. Prior to implementing NICE Inform Organizer, we were not able to save or keep track of our incident reconstruction work. This resulted in our team members having to duplicate efforts when multiple requestors needed records for the same case.”

But that is not the case with NICE Inform.

Typically, reproduction requests start with a work order to find the pertinent calls related to an incident. Once the 9-1-1 and radio call are retrieved, they’re saved in a NICE Inform Organizer electronic case folder. Now, when another party requests the same audio reproduction, records custodians can simply retrieve the original reproduction, without having to do the same work all over again.

We’ve improved our efficiency by twenty-five percent and we can be sure that each party receives the identical set of recordings, whether it’s an in house request or a subpoena,” said Fason.

The key is to develop an agency standard when creating, naming and tagging incident folders in Organizer. For example, the City of Westminster PD uses the CAD event type for the incident name; the case number (if there’s a case assigned), and if a case isn’t assigned, the CAD event number, for the designated incident number; and for the incident description, a combination of the date, time, and location of the incident. These folder tags make it easier to go back and find the incident folder and associated contents later.

TIP 7: Shed paper and CDs in favor of electronic evidence delivery

Remember when ‘snail mail’ was synonymous with interoffice communications? Today, this archaic method has been replaced by email and other more efficient methods. This is also true for 9-1-1 centers – many are shedding paper and CDs in favor of electronic delivery of evidence. Of course, some still rely on CDs occasionally, but they can also email links to incident folders or audio files, and even provide direct secure access through password protection.

Prior to implementing Organizer, Marquez says that Westminster detectives could only receive .wav file audio recordings on CDs. Now they can access incident folders directly, providing they have assigned access rights.

“I like that we have different options to choose from,” said Marquez. “I create the audio reproduction, put it in the incident folder, and give the detective access.” Detectives can: review the incident exactly as it unfolded; add evidence items to the incident timeline; add reports, photos, CAD notes, and any other documentation needed; and then make their own CD, and distribute it. Everything is permissions based and every action is tracked for chain of custody.

Where direct access is not a viable option, Marquez says it’s possible to distribute the entire incident folder and its contents, along with an executable file for the media player (with or without a password), either on a CD or via a shared network drive.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the largest sheriff’s office in Texas and the third largest in the United States, also benefits from this approach. The HCSO receives 12,000 records requests annually, from courts, district attorneys, defense attorneys, detectives, media and private citizens. Through electronic evidence delivery, the HCSO has been able to reduce turnaround times significantly.

“Once we got NICE Inform, we were able to virtually eliminate CDs and transition to paperless delivery for records requests,” said Kathi Yost, HCSO Director of Communications. “Our turnaround time went from 3 to 6 weeks to 10 to 15 days. Our backlog is now within 30 days of the original request which is phenomenal. Our overhead cost has gone down tremendously as well. We were spending over $2,700 a month in supplies and that has been reduced to almost nothing.”

TIP 8: Have one central repository for evidence

NICE Inform Organizer also enables PSAPs to have one central repository for evidence, a feature Marquez really likes.

“One of the really cool features of Organizer is that it can be a central repository for different kinds of evidence,” she said.“ So of course, you have the audio reconstruction content but you can drop related material in the folder as well, for example the CAD event chronology, photos, a witness statement, reports, and other documents.”

“In the past detectives would have just gotten a CD of the audio and paper copies of the CAD notes separately, which often exceeded 20 pages.  It's great to be able to send them everything in one neat package,” Marquez added.

TIP 9: Have a consistent system for tracking incident distributions

For most 9-1-1 centers, the volume of reproduction requests is growing every year, with no sign of slowing down. The sheer number of records requests makes tracking of which incident records were sent to whom not only more crucial than ever, but more challenging too.

Now, instead of relying on paper notes or spreadsheets, audio records custodians can use NICE Inform Organizer to create distribution folders for various requestors (for example DAs, investigators, media and citizens) and also to track the date, time and contents of what was shared, with whom, and when.

If the same reproduction (originally requested by an investigator, for example) is requested by a private citizen, the custodian also has the ability to distribute the entire incident folder or a portion of its contents. “You can control what you’re giving to someone, and you also have an audit trail of who you’re giving that information to,” Marquez explained.

For example, she says, there are instances where a citizen and an in house detective may request the same 911 call. NICE Inform makes it possible to copy the entire reproduction from the incident folder, and then make and save another copy where a portion of the call is redacted. The detective gets access to the complete incident, while the citizen may get a redacted version of the call.

Additionally, actions performed by any user logged into the system are tracked in an audit log, along with the user’s ID, the date and time, and what the user did, to ensure evidence integrity and chain of custody.

TIP 10: Use audio analytics to expedite investigations

Audio analytics are commonly used in commercial contact centers to uncover customer satisfaction issues and generate business intelligence. But they can play a vital role in public safety as well. 

An investigator can use audio analytics, for example, to find 9-1-1 calls where a specific word or phrase was spoken, or to find calls that were part of a build-up to an incident (which could reveal hidden clues and more importantly, potential eyewitnesses). 

Additionally, in a 9-1-1 setting, ensuring telecommunicator compliance to protocols, reducing liability and improving quality and efficiency of emergency response are all critical.

Today, one hundred percent of 9-1-1 calls are recorded but due to time and resource constraints, only a fraction of those calls are ever listened to. Using audio analytics, PSAPs can monitor high acuity and critical calls to ensure protocols are being followed to the letter.

Are your telecommunicators omitting mandatory questions? Are they transferring calls without staying on script? Audio analytics can help you get answers to those questions fast.

Want to learn more? I invite you to watch this on-demand webinar: 10 tips for fulfilling audio and evidence requests 50%+ faster.

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