COBALT: Fighting Crime with Design

Mark43United States

Disrupting, Empowering, Optimizing

Production / Professional


Daniel Yang, Mike Davey, Hannelore McElheny, Yuri Byun, Kristine Ortega


When we discuss problems in policing, we rarely indict the records management software. There’s a common misconception that police are “high tech” when, in reality, 20% of departments are still using paper reports to file incidents. The rest are using outdated software that makes it impossible to share crime information across city lines. Problematic software has even resulted in criminals walking free based on technicalities like arrests not being processed in time. This was a decades old problem that no one else bothered to fix despite hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars being spent each year on it. With Cobalt Records Management System, the team at Mark43 redesigned police reporting workflows from the ground up, and built a user experience that officers could finally embrace instead of complain about.

Cobalt is the beginning of a revolution in public safety software. Prior to Mark43 entering the space with Cobalt, other vendors were happy to collect taxpayer dollars for their 15-year-old software, while nickel and diming local governments for each additional feature and maintenance contracts for software that often didn’t even work. Cobalt is a cloud-based subscription service so it’s hardware agnostic and constantly being improved. Existing departments are able to take advantage of new functionality as it’s released without paying additional fees or buying new devices. This sounds obvious now with services like Dropbox and Salesforce, but it’s unheard of in government. Mark43’s Cobalt has woken multi-billion dollar competitors who previously dismissed it, but are now scrambling to update their legacy platforms.

Keeping our communities safe is a tough and important job for police officers with constant personal safety, media, and political challenges. Officers’ focus should be on engaging with the communities they serve rather than the tools they use. Yet, poor police software has caused all kinds of problems in the justice system. Mark43 was founded out of a Harvard senior class project that sought to understand and tackle these issues.

While doing ride-alongs with patrol officers, the Mark43 team learned that writing and getting reports approved was the most dreaded part of the job. Clunky, inefficient workflows were preventing departments from collecting valuable data just because officers were so frustrated by the report writing process that they would avoid it. Even when officers did their job, the data in old reports was unstructured, which made it useless for crime analysts. It’s little wonder why report writing is so often the butt of TV cop jokes.

Mark43’s Cobalt Records Management Software changes all this with its efficient report design and advanced data models. Cobalt’s first deployment with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. saw incredible results — on average, report times have been slashed in half. The most time-consuming report type, arrests, used to take over an hour to complete and now takes around 16 minutes. Cobalt also dramatically reduced duplicate and dirty data through redesigned workflows and validation. Mark43 is now scaling Cobalt to cities across the country to multiply these efficiency and data accuracy gains.


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