In law enforcement, clear communication can be a matter of life or death. In emergency situations, officers must be able to communicate quickly and effectively with one another and with command staff. However, effective police communication starts long before those critical moments; it begins with the day-to-day collaboration among all levels of law enforcement.

Effective law enforcement collaboration can encourage officer buy-in to policies and procedures, make training more effective and keep officers safe in the field. New technology is making collaboration within and between departments easier than ever, but collaboration will look different for every agency. Before investing in collaboration technology, departments should consider doing a communication audit to examine the strengths and weaknesses in existing collaboration, the needs, and size of the staff and the willingness of officers to adopt new technology. Clear goals and policies for communication must be in place in order for collaboration tools to be useful.

Whether your department is looking for easier ways to form committees, manage collaborative documents or plan field operations, here are a few tools to consider implementing:

Video Conferencing Software

In the fast-paced, quick-response law enforcement environment, in-person meetings aren’t always practical or cost-effective. Video conferencing is essential for collaborative meetings and, in some cases, can help with communication between command staff and officers in the field. However, truly collaborative conferencing requires more than just clear video and audio. An effective video conferencing system will not only encrypt and secure sensitive information, it will also include easy tools for sharing files, brainstorming and editing shared notes and documents. Consider starting with a user-friendly online meeting tool such as WebEx or Vidyo, to keep hardware and software needs to a minimum.

On-the-Ground Collaboration Apps

The use of smartphones and mobile devices creates opportunities for more in-depth planning and communication between officers in the field. Apps such as BlueLine Grid and DragonForce allow for secure, compliant messaging, file sharing and collaborative operation planning and reporting.

Secure, Accessible Policy Management Systems

From collaborative policy creation to employee questionnaires, a centralized digital policy and document management system allows all employees to access the information they need, coordinate workflows and provide feedback to command staff and administration. With software such as PowerDMS, agencies are able to distribute critical policy and training content, then track which officers have viewed and signed that content for easy follow-up. Many agencies use PowerDMS to distribute surveillance video footage, BOLO alerts, shift meeting notes, and aerial photos and floorplans—information unrelated to policy but nonetheless critical to ensuring officers do their jobs effectively.

Creating healthy, collaborative methods of communication should be a priority for every law enforcement department. Fostering collaborative environments starts with opening lines of communication surrounding routine operations like meetings and policy document creation. But effective communication extends to every aspect of law enforcement, and can save time, money and ultimately, lives.