Data mining for policing the police

After decades of mounting complaints about the use of excessive force, false arrests and racial profiling, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is being forced to implement a computerized risk-management system to track officers' conduct and performance.

The LAPD's system will cost an estimated $13 million and take two years to install, but it will eventually track the activities of 10,000 officers. Last week, the department said it had chosen a vendor for the application, which analysts say could have a wide array of uses in corporate America, from evaluating employee performance to reducing costs.

Liekar Strategic Solutions Corp. won the contract to install what it calls its Risk Management and Analysis Tool. It's the third time the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm has been awarded a bid to install such a system in a large police department under a federal consent decree. The LAPD agreed in November in a consent decree to change its management practices by using a computer tracking system that alerts supervisors of officers accused of brutality and other abuses of power.

Sgt. Gregory Valenti, who's in charge of the LAPD's Training Evaluation and Management System, or TEAMS II unit, said he has high hopes that the tracking system will not only be useful in responding to misconduct, but that it will also put a dent in civil litigation. Last year, the LAPD paid out more than $28 million as a result of civil lawsuits, according to police. But Valenti said the system's main use will be to help management stay on top of trends.

For the past year, the New Jersey State Police have been working on installing a similar tracking system, also built by Liekar. In 1997, the Pittsburgh Police Department was the first city in the nation to use a completely automated computer system to detect misconduct by its officers, according to Cmdr. Regina McDonald.

How it works

The system tracks officers' use of force, search and seizure, and citizen complaints, as well as criminal charges or civil lawsuits filed against officers. Pittsburgh's system, called the Performance Assessment and Review System, also tracks commendations and awards earned by officers. It alerts police officials, who check the system at least once each day, to any inappropriate behavior by an officer.

"Previously, different information was kept in different locations. When we wanted certain information, we would have to call the various departments for it," McDonald explained. "Now it's right at our fingertips."

Liekar CEO Robert Liekar said the tracking system is based on an Oracle database running on servers from Sun Microsystems Inc. or on IBM RS/6000s.

Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, performed a review of the tracking system for the U.S. Department of Justice. He said that although reports of police misconduct in the Pittsburgh Police Department have dropped by more than half, on average, since its tracking system was installed, data mining engines are only as good as the information they're provided.

"These things are not an alarm clock. You can't expect to buy it off the shelf, program it, set it and expect it to go off," he said. "The real issues are not issues of software but of administration."

This story, "Data mining for policing the police" was originally published by Computerworld.

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