Boston Police to Update Traffic Stop Database

The department is hoping the new system will help improve the accuracy of its internal data, including highly scrutinized stop-and-frisk information.

by Jordan Graham, Boston Herald / January 20, 2016

(TNS) — The Boston Police Department is hoping its new multimillion-dollar records system will help improve the accuracy of its internal data, including highly scrutinized stop-and-frisk information, which is riddled with errors.

“In the old system, people would fill out a paper form, then that form would be interpreted by an entry clerk a day, a week, two weeks later, and enter it,” said Deputy Superintendent John Daley, the department’s chief technology officer. “The system inherently had a lot of potential for data errors.”

BPD replaced its archaic, 40-year-old system last June with one that eschews paper and relies more on drop-down menus with specific options rather than space for a free-form answer, which will make the data clearer, Daley said.

The department has paid about $12 million for the records system and a computer-aided dispatch service that went live in 2014.

The department earlier this month publicly released information on nearly 150,000 stop-and-frisks — what it calls FIO stops — between 2011 and 2015 that was compiled using the old data entry system. Thousands of entries include obvious errors, such as:

  • 8,765 entries that do not list an outcome, including whether the subject was stopped or frisked.
  • 1,454 entries that list dates outside of the 2011-15 time frame, including stops in 1964 and several in 1967. There are 40 stops that will happen in the future, including three in 2044.
  • In 3,775 instances, the age of the subject is listed as -1.
  • Information about the subject’s race is left blank in 5,910 entries.

BPD spokesman Lt. Michael McCarthy said entries with errors would be corrected by two criminal justice researchers who will conduct a study of the data.

“That’s the way we have the data, that’s the way it is right now with us,” McCarthy said. “There may be some instances of data entry (error), but there also may be instances of actual incorrect information being put on the paper FIO itself.”

City Council President Michelle Wu, who has pushed for more transparency in city government, said the release of the data is still positive.

“Our goal in releasing it isn’t to say here is a perfect end result, the goal is to say here is the information we’re collecting, can you help us out, look for trends we haven’t seen,” Wu said. “It needs to be good data for that to happen, but the first step is to get it out there.”

©2016 the Boston Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.