October 4, 2004 By Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor
A lawsuit filed by dozens of plaintiffs alleging they were roughed up by a band of officers calling themselves "the Riders" was settled in 2003. Part of the settlement requires deployment of a tracking system to alert department brass of police misconduct.
The system will document use-of-force incidents, citizen complaints, attendance, shootings and accidents, as well as commendations, awards and letters of appreciation. Its main purpose is to help supervisors identify trends that might indicate an officer needs an intervention.
Oakland Police Capt. Jeff Israel said the system won't necessarily provide information that wasn't available before, but it will bring the data to the attention of higher-ups.
"The system alerts everybody, right up to the chief," Israel said. "It holds the supervisor all the way up the chain accountable for doing something about this identification. It's a tremendous risk management tool."
The Phoenix Model
The Oakland system may turn out to be an offshoot of a Phoenix, Ariz., Police Department application, which went live in January. Phoenix began developing its system in 2000, as requested by former chief Harold Hurtt, who saw the U.S. Department of Justice force other jurisdictions to develop similar tools. So he decided to be preemptive about implementing such a system, said one of the system's architects, Sgt. Ron Snodgrass.
Phoenix calls its application the Personnel Assessment System (PAS) because it emphasizes guiding employees, not necessarily disciplining them. A number of "thresholds," determined by management, are in the system. Here, the behavior of an officer or department employee is noted -- and it's not just for sworn officers in Phoenix; other department employees also have access to the system.
"We built the threshold screen so they could see exactly where they stood with our thresholds," Snodgrass said, adding that personnel know how close they are to violations that would yield an intervention. "They avoid those things. We basically get voluntary compliance with policy by them using the system themselves as an intervention tool.
"We can also use it as a risk management tool, if successful, reducing liability because we're finding problems and nipping them in the bud before they become greater problems and cost us millions of dollars down the road when we get sued," he said.
Phoenix police have encountered about 200 thresholds crossed by individuals. Around 95 percent of those were good employees and needed no intervention. The others may have needed a little help before things got out of hand.
For Phoenix, PAS is about "getting to people before they crash and burn, and kill somebody in a police pursuit, traffic accident or whatever," Snodgrass said.
The system, which runs on the Virtual BASIC programming language, refreshes itself nightly by collecting new information added that day. The data dates back five years, and each night deletes a day from five years ago.
Phoenix spent $475,000 on the project so far -- $350,000 went toward software, and the rest pays the salaries of Snodgrass and his two-person staff.
Oakland's goal is to thwart behavior that could lead to the kinds of problems that brought the lawsuit -- and the eventual $11 million settlement. It's not as easy as it sounds, even with a new system, Israel said.
"Just because you have a lot of use-of-force problems, incidents or attendance issues doesn't make you a bad officer," he said. "You have to do peer group comparisons."
An officer working in a busy area abundant with shootings during the middle of the night will be involved in more car chases and fights, and have more
You may use or reference this story with attribution and a link to