NCDPS: Identifying technology demand in the public sector
US public safety concerns are inevitably increasing in line with a larger population, which pushes more demand on organizations like the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS). Since 2013, the number of individuals employed in law enforcement increased exponentially from roughly 626,942 to around 696,644 in 2020 —and figures are yet to be disclosed for 2021.
However, the general trend of witnessing by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol is a decrease — specifically during the period of 2015 to 2019 — of instances like speeding, driving impairments, seatbelt and child restraint violations. The residents of North Carolina will be pleased to know that almost 75,000 fewer speeding tickets are issued annually and the public are generally more aware of risks. But, the NCDPS hasn't achieved this through campaigning and training. How has technology supported the organization in recent years and what is next for the NCDPS?
The NCDPS shows resilience throughout the pandemic
Covering a broad range of public safety services, the NCDPS has spent the past 10 years working with its employees and alongside the general public to prioritise the safety of the state in the most effective way.
It provides law enforcement and health and safety management at adult correctional, the NCDPS also operates facilities a juvenile justice system, emergency management (supporting the state throughout disasters and supplying necessary aid), as well as homeland security and the National Guard.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the most significant period of international safety concerns; resulting in an series of events across the globe the NCDPS was forced to adapt quickly to protect its staff, the public, and individuals in its care. As a result, the organisation's digital transformation began and there is certainly more to come as it works with leading technology companies to develop its information technology (IT) infrastructure.
With the department's Glenn Mack employed as its Chief Information Officer — appointed in 2018 — the NCDPS has been able to overcome obstacles throughout the pandemic by advancing its technical solutions. Mack began his career in an entry-level position and has worked in various IT roles since graduating from East Carolina University in 1992. His expertise has since developed through working with the State of North Carolina, North Carolina Department of Crime Control & Public Safety, Pace Communications — as its IT Director — and HCS Systems.
In conversation with Mack, he told us more about his inspiration for working in the organization and driving positive changes as “a safety-of-life department.”
“Our motto is to 'Prevent, Protect and Prepare', so we're prepared to meet the needs, from a public safety perspective, of the citizens of North Carolina," Mack says.
Adopting technology for a safer community
As a government organisation, the NCDPS follows stringent protocols when implementing new technologies into its operations. Or, as Mack puts it, “we are a government department and so oftentimes, we're a little bit behind the eight ball when moving into some of the more streamlined solutions.” This really highlights the significance of his role and efforts in promoting the use of beneficial technologies across the organisation.
Over the past two years, the NCDPS has adapted to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic while ensuring the safety and detention of a population of more than 100,000 offenders and probationers in various stages of the correction process. It had already leveraged the use of services like Office 365 from Microsoft and Cisco voice over IP and unified collaboration solutions, as well as solution support from Presidio in its daily operations. “But, we are still exploring how to really utilise and benefit from the cloud,” Mack says.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the department has successfully used digital tools to incorporate e-visitation and telemedicine into its correctional facilities, which has allowed offenders to maintain contact with their families from the prison facility and receive substantial medical attention without any further detriment to their health. This has also allowed for the continued operation of facilities, by protecting staff during the outbreak.
“Obviously the pandemic helped to highlight a lot of our technology capabilities. And so, with the continued modernization of our infrastructure and our solution set, we were able to utilise a lot of collaboration tools like Webex (a Cisco tool) and those tools lent themselves to introduce new solutions for our inmates like telemedicine and e-visitation says Mack. “So, we continue to modernise within the department for various reasons and it has embraced this technology to help accomplish and meet our goals.”
While technology development is critical for the future of the department, the organisation's culture is reflected in its digital transformation. “Most of the staff exhibit a calling to public service,” Mack says. “So, even on the IT side, our IT solutions support and technology services are required to accomplish the mission of the department. If our solutions don't work, bad things could happen and we know that. So, there's a strong commitment to providing excellent IT solutions for the department.”
Technical partnerships with strategies aligned
Within such a rigid industry — which is expected when dealing with public safety and correction — the NCDPS is careful when selecting its partner organisations. Mack mentions the organisation's previous and current operations alongside Cisco and Presidio as well as its use of Microsoft tools. These companies were selected based on the alignment of their views as well as their comprehension of the department's goals and restraints.
With the support from its partners, the NCDPS is able to access new insights and leverage the innovative perspectives of expert developers — something the department would not manage on its own. “Our partners help guide us with emerging technologies and solutions to help meet our business goals and directives,” Mack says. “So, we're very dependent on them showing us how we should move forward in certain areas. That being said, we have an extremely talented group of application developers and technical engineers that understand the business at a functional level, and are critical in the design and support of ever changing application/solution needs.”
How has technology facilitated a reaction to change?
The organization is pre-empting a division of its department with one of those focusing primarily on adult correction. As a result, Mack expects to see more implementation of digital collaboration tools and ultimately, a change in organizational culture as it moves towards digital solutions in the long term.
As the department separates, the NCDPS is likely to experience operational challenges and technology is the key to a seamless transition. Mack explains how the organization hopes to develop its solutions for the new adult correction department, which will also ensure the safety of its offenders.
“We continue to explore many new emerging technologies in this space. Man-down, inmate tracking and drone detection are high priorities. In partnership with DPS leadership and the exceptional NCDPS IT staff, we are committed to finding, testing and implementing best in class solutions to improve the safety within our prisons,” Mack says.
“We have been very successful with our telemedicine, telepsychiatry and e-visitation programs through the use of Cisco's Webex platform to reduce costs, increase correctional officer safety, as well as boost the morale of both officers and inmates during the global pandemic. The inmates are receiving timely healthcare and able to connect with approved family online visitation via Webex. We have also built and a separate 'inmate' network (iNet) within our environment to accommodate online learning and other offender-related programme.”
Mack also divulged some of the department's technology solutions that support activities within its law enforcement section, while providing other benefits to the organisation. Mack says, “we have or upgraded various CRM solutions within DPS to improve our LE divisions' ability to efficiently and accurately track their caseloads. We continue to expand and deploy department-wide collaboration tools to better improve communication and improve efficiencies while also reducing costs.”
“Video surveillance, licensed drone operators and a statewide radio network are also being used to increase safety for the officers. It has been and always will be our goal to assist our LE partners within DPS to improve the safety and citizens of NC via technology.”
Technology will support young people
Alongside its investment into adult correction and law enforcement, the NCDPS understands the importance of youth and its responsibility for setting young individuals on a safe and compliant path. Its juvenile justice system is in place to address issues within younger generations and encourages them to abide by the law.
While the department utilizes technologies to support the system, it is focused on facilitating a shift in approach to juvenile justice. The organization will develop its technologies with help from its dedicated development team.
“Many of the same technologies are within our Juvenile Justice facilities to increase the safety of our staff and youth. In addition to our core operational solutions, we have a dedicated team of developers that have an ongoing mission to create or enhance applications that are mission-critical to Juvenile Justice and they are constantly tuning and creating new applications as the business dictates.”
"One new solution we are excited about is the real-time 'bed-check' solution that allows staff to accurately and in a timely manner, report the status of our youth via a wirelessly connected tablet."
Developing the experience and investing in juvenile programs is likely to increase safety over time as the NCDPS works with young people in the state. Digital tools can be leveraged to enable better lives for youth offenders, but this requires continuous digital transformation. “The laws and rules around our youth constantly change and we are there to facilitate those changes within the applications or solutions we support.”