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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.

    (Page 2 of 4)

    Merrick Bobb is Seattle's federally appointed police reform monitor. Bobb has indicated that his team will not tell a federal court that Seattle has complied with the Justice Department's requirements until the business intelligence system is in place.

    In his second semi-annual report, which was issued last December, he knocked the department's data management methods.

    "The SPD generates frequently erroneous and incomplete factual information about itself and officer performance," he wrote. "The lack of timely, trustworthy data is a substantial impediment to progress, efficient management, and effective policing."

    Bobb, and monitoring team member Matthew Barge, recently sent a memo to the Mayor's Office that outlined some of features they believe should be included in the business intelligence system. These included tools to report and review incidents, store officer performance data and look for trends both across the department and with individual cops. They said that the department's Office of Professional Accountability, which handles misconduct complaints, and the Force Investigation Team, which looks into serious use-of-force incidents like shootings, would also use the system to manage cases.

    Information and software for a "performance mentoring" program — the department's name for its early intervention system — will be a part of the system as well. Early intervention systems, used by departments around the country, provide supervisors with a way to identify officers who are in need of more training, headed toward disciplinary trouble, or experiencing on-the-job stress. 

    Seattle's system includes criteria like use-of-force incidents, vehicle collisions, missed court dates, lawsuits and complaints. Each of the criteria has a threshold — for instance, seven use-of-force incidents in six months or three complaints in a year. When an officer reaches a threshold, their supervisor and other department staff conduct a review of the officer's on-the-job performance. The system is not designed to be punitive or disciplinary. Depending on the circumstances, the review might lead to more training, a different assignment or counseling.

    For other cities that have undergone federal police reforms, establishing a well-functioning early intervention system has proven to be a crucial step in completing the process.

    "We had to computerize everything," said Robert McNeilly, who was Pittsburgh's chief during the time the city's department went through a federally mandated reform process that began in 1997 and lasted until 2002.

    McNeilly, who is now chief of police in Elizabeth Township, Pennsylvania, said that it took more than two years to develop the system. The project involved several different companies and cost the department millions of dollars, but McNeilly says it was worth it.

    "If you don’t track what you’re doing," he said, "how do you know if you’re doing it right?"

    Seattle's department is already tracking early intervention information, but Bobb has raised issues about the quality of the data and the difficulty department staff have accessing and analyzing it with existing computer systems. The department uses its Administrative Investigations Management, or AIM, computer system to log and manage performance mentoring information.

    Bobb's semi-annual report referred to AIM as "unacceptably antiquated, impractical, and onerous to use."

    The Price Waterhouse Coopers report said early-intervention reports moved through the department on paper, were commonly backlogged and were not automatically generated when officers hit thresholds. This means that sergeants do not have daily, up-to-date access to performance information for the officers they supervise.

    The department is addressing this issue in the near term with software called IAPro. The software provides the sergeants with yellow or red "stoplight" indicators to show how close an officer is getting to each of the performance-mentoring thresholds. This feature might be replaced or updated when the full-blown business intelligence system is in place. The department is just beginning to implement the portion of IAPro that patrol sergeants will use. According to Rasmussen, it should be fully operational in December of this year.

    "We want sergeants to have that kind of information at their fingertips," Rasmussen said. "That really helps drive great conversations between supervisors and employees."

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

    The most urgent upgrade needed, better officers.


    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.


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