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How to overcome
the challenges
of the small-town
police department

Author: Adam Kimmel

Of the roughly 18,000 police departments in the United States, over 17,000 (95%) are considered small with fewer than 100 officers. With the quantity and complexity of crimes committed in metropolitan areas, it may seem that officers in a small-town police department have fewer challenges.  Yet despite the perception of friendly neighbors, county fairs, and porch-to-porch conversations, small towns present their share of challenges for local law enforcement, which is often strapped for resources.

According to the Community Policing Dispatch, small towns have smaller tax bases which can result in less funding for personnel, training, equipment, technology and other resources that local, state, and tribal law enforcement need to prevent crime and maintain public safety.

Current pain points of small police departments

Typically, there are fewer officers in rural towns due to issues like budget constraints and the inability to compete with urban salaries, though they face similar challenges such as substance abuse, violent crime, and homelessness as metropolitan areas.  With a lack of available staffing for joint-efforts between departments, such as highway patrol and local police and drug enforcement, substance abuse in rural communities can be hard to combat.

In addition, there is supporting research that indicates rural locations have higher rates of untreated mental illness and suicide as there tends to be a lack of mental health resources to help address behavioral health issues, which can be dangerous for officers.

Small-town police departments also face the budget constraints of affording advanced law enforcement (LE) technology such as body-worn cameras and video imaging tools, robotics, license plate readers, evidence collection, and gunshot detection systems.  Small police departments can also be constrained by the challenges of rural internet sources that struggle with connectivity and operate at slow speeds.

Networking solutions for the small-town police department

Organizations in rural areas where wireless coverage is spotty or unavailable can benefit from emergency response and deployable solutions like a communication trailer which can enhance coverage and help streamline crucial communication between first responders during an incident. 

For example, this ad-hoc ability to enable voice and data coverage in remote locations can be leveraged to provide 4G LTE to facilitate communications between departments when responding to a wildfire or provide secure WiFi in order to broadcast video captured by a drone.  For example, this could allow for enhanced communication and inter-agency collaboration between local police and the DEA during a drug interdiction on remote, agricultural land.   

Predictive policing uses machine learning to help construct patterns of crime and criminal behavior.  This can help small-town police departments to both understand the nature of a problem and to mitigate future criminal activity.  The move towards data-driven and predictive approaches is growing across the country.

How technology can make a difference

Technologies like gunshot detection use sensors to help identify and alert law enforcement to criminal activity, which is useful in a small town with a limited number of officers.  License plate readers are used to capture, timestamp, and store license plate images.  Drones can help expand the scale of resource-strapped small police departments in search and rescue operations.

Each of these examples are important tools for small-town police departments yet require connectivity to work.  Communication is critical to keep law enforcement safe, and it is imperative for officers to stay connected during an emergency situation.  As small police departments work tirelessly to protect their communities, accessible, cost-effective technologies are here to help.

Learn more about how Verizon Frontline is providing small-town police departments and frontline workers with reliable solutions to help keep them connected, in any situation.