The Portland Connection

Portland's police and parole/probation departments now share information when a police officer stops someone on probation or parole.

by / February 4, 2004
Given the nature of their responsibilities, one would think the Portland Police Bureau and the local probation/parole office would have an open line of communication.

Until recently, they didn't.

Often the Multnomah County Community Justice Department's Division of Adult Probation/Parole/Post-Prison Supervision relies on police as its eyes and ears in keeping track of corrections clients out on parole or probation. But tracking information from police contact with corrections clients on the street was a chore, until the city modified its computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system.

Now officers routinely check with parole/probation when stopping clients on the street. They immediately transmit a report from their mobile data terminal (MDT) to a probation or parole officer's desk.

If necessary, due to parole or probation violation, probation or parole officers can immediately call the officer on the street and have a subject detained.

"Parole/probation and police certainly need a relationship, in that we have contact with parole/probation clients on a regular basis," said Jeff Myers, senior neighborhood officer with the Portland Police Bureau. "There has been a problem in the past in that we didn't have an easy way of exchanging the information."

Approximately 400 squad cars are equipped with the technology to transmit this information, and about 250 of those are active on a daily basis.

Before the link, if parole/probation wanted to know whether a corrections client had been in contact with an officer on the street, they had to dig for that information, which took days. Even then, there was no information on who stopped the client or in what precinct.

Now the information is available as soon as the officer fills out a form -- called a "mask" -- which is usually right after the encounter. Soon officers will be required to enter the information, and will be unable to log off the MDT before it is sent to parole/probation.

How It Works
When an officer runs a check on a subject through his MDT, the system searches the state's Law Enforcement Data System for information on the subject. If the subject is on parole or probation, a mask is immediately generated and sent to the officer to fill in.

The mask contains queries on the subject's state, and if there was evidence of drugs, alcohol, weapons, a sex offender with a minor, or other situations that would violate the subject's parole or probation.

"That information's extremely important to the parole officer," Myers said. "During the contact, if there was alcohol, drugs or weapons on board, certainly that would be of interest to the parole officer. The nature of the contact is important to the individual parole or probation officer because there are certain behaviors or acts that are prohibited based on their probation or parole requirements."

The mask also has a section for the officer's random remarks, which could be for suspicious behavior that may not be an obvious parole or probation violation, such as being in proximity to a known drug house.

In a recent case, an officer found a corrections client sleeping in a parked car next to a known drug house. The officer noted nothing criminal about the subject's behavior, but talked to him and ran his information. The mask came back, indicating the subject was a parole/probation client. The officer filled out the mask, sent it and drove off.

The subject's parole officer read the report and notified dispatch. Minutes later, the officer received a call to detain the individual, who had earlier violated his parole.

Myers cautioned the system doesn't work like that every time, but said police get between 35 and 50 hits on corrections clients every day, which will help parole/probation keep track of clients.

"That's the way the system is supposed to work," Myers said. "It facilitates the exchange of information in real time, and gives [parole/probation] the ability to supervise individuals through our eyes and ears."

There are eight sanctions with varying degrees of severity for offenders who violate probation or parole, but not severely enough to be arrested. For example, as part of his or her parole, an individual might be required to stay away from known drug dealers, and a violation might yield a sanction, such as a work program.

Cops are also using the system to check the status of known offenders, according to Myers. "They'll know individuals in their district that have prior criminal behavior, and just randomly run someone without having any contact with them, without having to see if, by chance, maybe they have a warrant now."

In essence, it's a quick way for officers to check on a subject they know is on parole or probation to see if the suspect is wanted for a violation of those conditions.

Zero Dollar Investment
The system required merely a modification of the current PRC/Northrop Grumman CAD system the city uses, according to Jim Churchill, CAD coordinator for the Portland 9-1-1 Bureau of Emergency Communications.

"Luckily we had programming staff in house, so we didn't have to invest in any specific equipment," Churchill said. "It was a software modification."

Churchill said programmers made sure the system was "officer friendly."

"It defaults to all the cumbersome information, then all that's left for the officer to do is fill in the basic information surrounding the contact," Churchill said. "That's a format that's very easy for them to use."

The system began as a pilot in June 2003, and went live citywide the first week of December. It is expected to go countywide soon, and it is hoped to go statewide in the near future.
Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor Justice and Public Safety Editor