Policing Expert Charles Ramsey: Why Real-life Detective Work Isn’t as Simple as What You See on TV

Charles RamseyNo one knows better than Charles H. Ramsey that real-life detective work is nothing like you see on TV.

He started out in 1968 as a cadet in the Chicago police department, rising to the rank of Chief for the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, and later to Commissioner for the Philadelphia Police Department. During his acclaimed 47-year career, he led units that have investigated all manner of crimes – drugs, homicide, robbery, sexual assault, property crime, even organized crime.

Unlike their fictional TV counterparts, “real-life detectives don’t have the luxury of focusing on a single case,” said Ramsey. “Their case load is constantly being added to.”

Ramsey made the comments in a recent webinar (co-hosted with NICE Systems) which focused on the challenges and solutions for collecting, analyzing and sharing evidence in today’s digital world.

What’s even more problematic, Ramsey pointed out, is the growing number of digital silos that investigators need to go to in order to pull evidence to build their cases.

“In my day as a cop working in the Chicago police department information was maintained in filing cabinets for the most part,” he said. “Investigators had to sort through everything they had gathered and analyze leads for solvability factors.” Now, departments have gone from storing everything in filing cabinets and paper silos, to relying on digital silos. This includes CCTV, body-worn video, dashcams, CAD, license plate recognition, interview room recordings, and even social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Some of the information, Ramsey says, even resides outside of the department, making it even harder to get to.

“Investigations have always been complex but they are even more so today; this is mainly due to the variety of sources of information that are now critical to solving crimes,” he added.

According to Ramsey, citizens are also playing a greater role in crime-solving, through crowd-sourcing of evidence. “A lot of the information that we get today comes from the public,” he said, adding that being able to collect it, sort through it, analyze it, extract what’s relevant to the investigation, and share it in a timely fashion, is critical.

Ramsey was Chief of Police in Washington DC when the ‘Beltway snipers’ unleashed a series of attacks in October 2002, leaving ten dead and three critically wounded. “We didn’t have access to the same technology we have access to today to solve crimes – surveillance cameras, video from smartphones, text messaging.  But I can imagine what it would have been like if the Beltway sniper case had happened today. There would have been an overwhelming amount of digital information for investigators to sort through.”

And he says, this is not simply a problem for high profile cases. “It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see the issues a department is confronted with, not just from high profile cases which can happen anytime and anywhere, but in day to day investigations.”

NICE’s VP of Strategy and Business Development, Rod Guy, who co-presented the webinar with Ramsey, agreed.

Rod Guy

“The growth of digital silos has outpaced the tools that investigators have to manage all of this information, whether it’s public or private CCTV, CAD, RMS, 9-1-1 recordings. The list goes on and on. In many cases detectives have upwards of ten, or maybe even twenty different logons to access systems, and where they don’t have direct access, they’re phoning, emailing, filling out forms, or driving to locations to collect evidence and reports.”

“In our work with law enforcement agencies, we’ve also found that most of them don’t have a robust and scalable way to crowdsource evidence from the public,” Guy added.

Guy says that even after investigators gather all of their evidence, they often lack the tools to make sense of what they’ve collected. Even something as seemingly simple as playing back a video is impossible without the right codec.  Sharing case evidence is complicated too.

“The burden of physically creating duplicates of everything in a case file, onto CDs, DVDs and USBs, and sharing it with the chain of command, other agencies, or the prosecuting office, also falls on the detective,” said Guy.  This is another area where the manual workload has far outpaced innovation – until now.

In the webinar Guy introduced and explained in depth how NICE Investigate, a revolutionary digital investigation solution addresses common challenges related to collecting, analyzing, and sharing evidence, so investigators can be more effective and efficient.

Ramsey acknowledges this is a big step forward. “The public relies on law enforcement to find the person or persons responsible for committing crimes, and we have an obligation to use the tools that are now available to us to do that as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Ramsey said, adding that NICE Investigate has the potential to save countless hours of investigative time and help investigators close cases faster.

To learn more about this topic, I invite you to view the on-demand webinar or download the eBook ‘Solving Police Investigations in a Digital World.’


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