I have been encouraging law enforcement professionals to use free and open source resources for several years now but I have never been able to calculate the amount of money that can be saved through the use of these resources. I'm not sure if we could ever come up with an accurate estimate of potential savings without a team of researchers but I started thinking about ballpark figures based on some conservative estimates.
Let me go off on a tangent that I think a lot of police CAD and RMS users can relate to. If the vendor is not good, which often happens, there are a lot of parellels to a bad marriage. You have an expensive wedding with the taxpayers footing the bill like the parents of one of the spouses. The taxpayers don't get to pick the software but they trust that their police department is picking someone decent. There is a honeymoon period where everyone adjusts to living together and some may see hints of the softwares faults. You may find out that your software was heavily influenced by the vendors previous relationships with other departments. Sometimes there is a dark past where the software got messed up in another "relationship" and this causes friction with how your department wants things done. Most decide these are just normal hiccups and the vendor makes promises to change for the better, "Just wait until the next release." After a long while the police department figures out that all of the promises of change aren't going to happen but it is too late for an annulment. Sometimes there are nasty arguments and insults fly and each party blames the other for not trying hard enough or not being good enough. The police department and the vendor talk less and less and often they only talk when absolutely necessary. There is a lot of resentment and the resentment builds up until someone can't take it anymore. The vendor won't leave because of financial reasons and the police department can't leave because getting a "Divorce" from your vendor is very expensive. Data has been created and you want to keep custody of all of that data but the old vendor could make your relationship with your data difficult for many years to come. Not only that, you need to find a new vendor right away and ideally, that new vendor will happily move into your station and adopt all of the data that you created with your last vendor. Your taxpayers won't be happy that you are leaving your old vendor and probably won't be happy to pay for your new "marriage." There will be issues with your data and the new vendor and everyone is going to have to learn everything all over again. After all of this effort you get a new CAD / RMS with issues all of their own.
Enough with the goofy analogies. Here we go:
My thinking is that smaller agencies could more easily switch to an open source CAD/RMS and that they would reap the greatest benefits.
There are more than 6,000 police agencies in the United States with less than ten police officers.
If 1/3 of these small agencies purchased a computer aided dispatch and records management system for $10,000 and then paid $2,000 per year for support we are looking at $20,000,000 down and $4,000,000 a year for support.
Because it costs so much money to purchase one of these systems and because vendors make getting out so difficult nearly all of these departments would be locked in to their CAD / RMS for at least ten years. So we are looking at something like $56,000,000 assuming the first year of support is free for all of these agencies.
For that $56,000,000 we get a host of vendors all running on different standards with varying degrees of useability, data sharing ability and performance.
Wouldn't it be better if there was an alternative? It seems we could develop a great free solution and develop all kinds of documentation and support training for a lot less. We could also let the private sector fill in the support gaps at an equal or lower annual cost than what departments are locked into now. Updates would be free and developed through crowdsourcing. Everything would be built from the ground up based on best practices and would be geared toward working for everyone while being highly customizable. We could turn the app developers loose on this and creativity could take over and drive innovation.
I know of two projects right now that are on this track and I hope they get the chance to do great things.
Tickets is an open source CAD system that has been under development for a few years now – http://www.ticketscad.org/
A newer player showing a ton of promise is Invert911 – http://www.invert911.com/
Invert911 is gearing up to be a complete CAD / RMS for law enforcement. Tickets has more of an EMS leaning as this is where the creators are coming from.
I hope that both of these projects have great success and I can't wait to see the first innovative departments that switch to these systems to see what happens.