THE federal monitor over the Seattle Police Department flagged an unsexy but critical problem looming for the reform effort: data integration.
Currently, Seattle Police Department personnel files are kept separately from dispatch calls and arrest records, as are dashboard videos and citizen complaint records. Some records, such as an early intervention database that can alert a supervisor of an officer’s troubling pattern, are entered by hand.
It’s a mess, and monitor Merrick Bobb warned the City Council last week that it undermines the city’s ability to do “robust risk management.”
“Failure to correct these problems will substantially, if not fatally, prevent the SPD from reaching full and effective compliance,” Bobb wrote.
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The solution is a full merger of disparate records and databases, including video and audio.
Acting police chief Jim Pugel said no such software system exists within any police department in the country.
But Seattle is comfortable as a technology pioneer. The City Council should start by hiring a consultant to identify information gaps between existing databases, and seek a study to merge them.
It would be expensive, complicated work. But the U.S. Department of Justice has forced Seattle to commit to modernizing its police force. If data integration is an obstacle, then remove it.
Officers may be leery about how such detailed information would be used. It’s understandable. Collective-bargaining agreements would also need to be revisited.
But Pugel, and some City Council members, recognize the value of clear, comprehensive performance data. It would help supervisors identify good practices and praiseworthy officers. It would likely exonerate officers far more often that it would implicate them.
And it would restore trust in a department that suffers from allegations of biased policing, Pugel said.
“How do you measure trust?” he said. “How do you measure increase in performance (among officers)? It would give us a much clearer ability to definitively say, this is what this officer did.”