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Seattle Police prepare for a big computer upgrade

The department is planning a sophisticated "business intelligence system" to comply with federal reforms.
Seattle Police on May Day 2014: More information about police performance is on the way.

Seattle Police on May Day 2014: More information about police performance is on the way. Kdingo/Flickr

The Seattle Police Department is preparing to acquire a multi-million dollar computer system, which would provide powerful tools to manage and analyze data about both officer performance and city crime.

The officer performance components of the new "business intelligence system" are considered integral to Seattle's efforts to comply with the requirements of a federally mandated police reform process. This part of the system would be used to manage information about things like use-of-force incidents and complaints against officers.

The independent monitor overseeing Seattle's reforms has said that the department's current methods for tracking these types of data lag 20 years behind some other big city law enforcement agencies. And a recent report prepared by Price Waterhouse Coopers found that paper records commonly bog down a program designed to identify officers exhibiting risky on-the-job behavior.

Mayor Ed Murray on Monday morning nominated former Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole as Seattle's next chief of police. If O'Toole is confirmed by the City Council, the business intelligence system promises to be one of the bigger reform-related undertakings that will unfold on her watch.

Seattle Police Captain Ron Rasmussen, who is helping to oversee the computer project for the department, said, "The first things we are going to want to address are the ones involved in the settlement agreement."

The settlement agreement is between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice and is one of the key documents guiding reform process. The reforms were prompted by a 2011 investigation by the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, which found a pattern of use-of-force violations.

While the reform-related upgrades are the department's priority, police and city officials are looking for a business intelligence system that also includes features that could be used to analyze and prevent crime.

“The police department, especially in Seattle, should have state of the art computerization for all of the parts of policing that require data,” City Councilmember Tim Burgess said. “Even though the Department of Justice is focused on officer accountability we should not do just that.”

In a nutshell, a business intelligence system provides computer databases and software that organizations can use to work with large amounts of data. On one end, users enter raw information into computer programs. This information ends up stored in big databases, also called a "data warehouse." On the other end of the system is an interface for users to access, search or analyze the information.

The Price Waterhouse Coopers report describes a "dashboard" interface where supervisors, such as sergeants, would be able to see a variety of up-to-date information about each of their officers, including use-of-force incidents, commendations and sick days. The systems can also provide tools for predicting trends based on data, sharing information between or within organizations, and presenting it in maps or other types of visualizations.

The police department's system will be custom-built. Rasmussen said that getting it fully up and running will likely take a number of years, but could not offer a specific time frame.

Rasmussen and other department officials are currently working with members of the monitor's team, other city agencies and staff from the U.S. Attorney's Office to better determine what the system should include. In a project plan issued on April 30, Assistant Chief Tag Gleason, who commands the Compliance and Professional Standards Bureau, said the department plans to issue a "request for proposals" for the system in mid-August, select a vendor in October and then begin work on the system in December.

Because the project is still in the early planning stages, its cost has not been nailed down. But the Price Waterhouse Coopers report estimated that building a system that would fill in the computing gaps tied to the federal reform process would require about $11.8 million in initial spending and $904,880 annually to maintain. The money would pay for things like designing the system, hardware, software, computer engineers and training, as well as cleaning up old data so that it can be used going forward.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, May 19, 1:01 p.m. Inappropriate

The most urgent upgrade needed, better officers.

Djinn

Posted Tue, May 20, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I think that's the main point. First we need a new chief who doesn't reverse disciplinary decisions; hopefully we have that now. Then we need a way to find out who's doing well and who may need assistance. That's what this computer system is supposed to help with. Then we can deal with the officers and help them improve.

Getting better officers means identifying issues and helping officers improve. Simply firing and hiring doesn't necessarily get better people, just different ones.

pragmatic

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