Physical security reinforcement for law enforcement

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With recruitment and retention challenges, key control is a necessary physical security tool for law enforcement agencies, says Marcey Tweedie at Morse Watchmans.

The law enforcement landscape

Community populations depend on law enforcement agencies to ensure that the cities and towns in which they reside are safe and secure.

Whether a law enforcement agency has ten or 10,000 officers, each encounters staffing and recruitment challenges, time constraints, resources and the need to have the right security technology to safeguard agency assets such as weapons, evidence and fleet vehicles.

Recruitment and retention of law enforcement officials is on a startling decline, which significantly impacts available resources essential for public safety.

Moreover, law enforcement departments large and small need to manage and protect their departments with robust physical security policies to maximize operations efficiencies and to maintain regulatory compliance to prevent liability issues.

According to “The State of Recruitment,” a 2019 membership survey conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the factors contributing to recruiting and retention challenges are not related to one cause, but a multitude of social, political and economic issues. Let’s look at some of the survey findings:

  • 78% of agencies reported having difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates
  • 65% of agencies reported having too few candidates applying to be law enforcement officers
  • 75% of agencies reported that recruiting is more difficult today than it was five years ago

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) also conducted an April 2023 survey, which was sent to agency chiefs, sheriffs and commissioners.

Among the 182 responses representing 38 states and the District of Columbia, the survey findings report that “agencies are losing officers faster than they can hire new ones and total sworn-in staffing has continued to decline.

Retirements were up by 20% since 2019 and there were nearly 50% more resignations in 2022 from 2019.”

Statistics such as these reveal the need for law enforcement agencies at state, local and tribal levels to invest in security technology solutions that maximize time management, protect assets and conserve lean budgets.

Creating efficiencies often means finding technology solutions that “police” agency resources to maximize the time availability of sworn-in officers and agency staff members.

Law enforcement weapons, fleet vehicles, evidence and mobile devices need to be kept under lock and key to protect them from being lost or stolen.

Keys also need to be secured and accounted for and not left strewn randomly in desk drawers, or loaned, borrowed or copied.

Keeping keys, and the assets they protect, from misuse reduces liability through increased security and safety.

Safeguarding essential assets from the wrong hands also promotes accountability, compliance and efficiency within agencies.

With the multitude of benefits key control and asset management solutions provide, key control systems are also easy to configure, install and use.

There are several modules to choose from, including locker or card modules to manage assets as well as keys.

As needs change, the systems are also expandable or additional cabinets or systems can be placed in other convenient locations.

Key control systems can function independently or can be networked between multiple departments and precincts.

They also can be integrated and data-synchronized with other business and security technology systems.

Electronic key control secures and tracks all keys within access-controlled key cabinets.

When all the keys within a law enforcement precinct are secured within the key control system, they operate by allowing only authorized law enforcement personnel to withdraw and return keys that they have permission to use.

When a law enforcement member enters their pre-programed credentials into the system, their keys will light up, making it easy for them to know which ones they are allowed to take from the system, such as fleet vehicle keys, keys to filing cabinets, holding cell keys, keys for weapon storage and more.

When keys are returned, the system’s electronic locking device secures them inside the cabinet.

Every key transaction is recorded and the data can be downloaded into an audit report at any time to show who removed keys and where and when the keys were returned.

Improving efficiency and time management

Attempting to locate misplaced or lost keys is a time-consuming process, which may require obtaining a spare key from a member of administration who is currently off duty or driving to another precinct to acquire the needed key.

Then there is the expense involved in re-keying if a lost key is never found and is suspected to be in the hands of a person who is unauthorized to access law enforcement keys and assets.

Electronic key control systems efficiently track the inventory of all keys, which are distributed only when appropriate credentials are entered into the system by only authorized members of law enforcement personnel.

Even during times when understaffing is an issue, or when members of the team are out sick, the electronic key control system is never out sick and is on duty 24/7 to distribute keys accordingly.

Reinforcing greater accountability

Law enforcement agencies are constantly on-boarding new agency recruits and undergoing specific protocols when officers and staff members resign or are terminated from their employment.

Constant personnel changes require vigilance and attention to detail so that patrols and administrative duties can be performed continuously without the risk of security incidents.

Keys that may be hanging on a pegboard or assigned and distributed manually by an administrator run the risk of being taken by unauthorized individuals, whether purposefully or accidentally.

Electronic key control systems unburden manual key inventory distribution from key control administrators with pre-programmed criteria.

This tamper-proof technology has robust software so every single key can be assigned to specific individuals according to specific time and shift schedules, by job title, days of the week and other important criteria that makes key management unified and seamless.

This prevents unauthorized access to items such as weapons and specific fleet patrol cars, evidence files and more, which adds a layer of needed physical security within law enforcement agencies.

If a key is late being returned when it is due, email alerts and an optional alarm notify the key control administrator, who can conduct an audit and immediately find out who last removed the key so they can act promptly.

Audit reports are instantly available and can be downloaded, emailed and printed at any time.

Reducing liability and maintaining compliance

Since 1992, the FBI established the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) policy which requires all law enforcement agencies to adhere to security standards to ensure that law enforcement information including evidence, criminal records and sensitive data are kept confidential and protected so that investigations can be carried out without information being compromised.

Law enforcement agencies must maintain strict security protocols for access control to criminal records and sensitive data.

Any compromise of this data can abet criminals, which endangers community and public safety.

The CJIS also mandates that law enforcement agencies must protect law enforcement data and information with physical security technology to reinforce agency infrastructure from theft and cyber-attacks.

Only specific agency personnel who have had thorough background checks are allowed to have access to private and confidential law enforcement information.

Electronic key control systems can also be equipped with locker modules that can store bullet casings, knives and small weapons used in crimes, which are also highly sensitive and must be protected from being misplaced or stolen.

Strict procedures must always be followed when CJI is being accessed and handled.

Key control systems are equipped to program multi-factor authentication for keys to files containing highly sensitive information.

Multi-factor authentication requires that two to three authorized law enforcement members enter their credentials to obtain access to sensitive documents and information.

This activity is also automatically recorded by the key control system software for the mandated audit trail information and reports needed to stay compliant and to monitor and track access to CJI files.

Multi-factor authentication when applied to key control systems prevents potential insider security breaches as well because of the chain of custody required to obtain keys to important CJI.

Adding key control to master security plans will help law enforcement agencies maintain compliance and operate efficiently through time savings when agencies are understaffed.

This security technology, which was invented just over 30 years ago, is an invaluable “more hands-on deck” cost-effective resource with a quick return on investment, especially when federal, municipal and sovereign nation budgets are lean.

Key control systems provide more security with more audit trail data in actual time so law enforcement officials can focus on protecting people and the communities in which they serve.

This article was originally published in the April edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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