Four years ago, billionaire computer businessman and failed White House buyer H. Ross Perot called D.C.’s board of education the worst in the country. Now, one of Perot’s firms, Ross Perot Systems, has given the District’s police department a failing grade for the way it handles crime reports.
The Perot firm didn’t dub the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) the nation’s worst, but it certainly paints a grim portrait of a department drowning in paper, stymied by bureaucracy, and sadly deficient in technology.
The Perot study was delivered last October to Police Inspector James Lingerfelt, head of MPD’s information services. MPD has not released the classified study to the public, but a source shared some of it with LL this week.
Perot’s firm found that:
•All police reports are riddled with typing and other clerical errors;
•Those errors require that every report and computer entry be redone at least once;
•MPD personnel spend too much time filling out forms, making copies, and delivering those copies to other MPD personnel.
Specifically, Perot Systems found that the typical arrest requires officers to devote an astonishing 3.7 hours to completing reports and inputting information into the system—and that’s if all goes well. According to the study, MPD makes about 50,000 arrests each year, and each one requires an average of 300 entries—e.g., name, address, age, etc.—typed manually on six to 10 different forms.
Last year, Rep. Fred Heineman (R-N.C.) tried to deliver a $42-million federal aid package to MPD that would have included millions for new technology. Supporters claimed that new computers and software could reduce the time spent on paperwork to less than an hour per arrest. But the Heineman measure has stalled, entangled in congressional politics and home rule debates.
A source familiar with the study says that Perot Systems may be angling to land a multimillion-dollar contract to upgrade MPD’s data processing systems. But the report itself suggests that a bunch of new workgroups and CD-ROMs might not be a cure-all for the department’s clerical delays: The study found that human error, not just outdated technology, slows paper processing to a crawl. In its most damning statement, the study concluded that, “In offense processing, due to multiple errors on each case, the probability of information going through the first time with no errors is ZERO!!”
Perot Systems found that more than half of the department’s data processing budget is spent on entering redundant information and correcting errors.
The study also tracked the five most frequently used MPD forms (out of the 72 forms overall) and discovered that the department makes more than 3.64 million copies of those arrest forms, crime reports, and internal filings every year. If the study had tracked all forms, the total number of copies almost certainly would have topped 4 million.
Each form filed is duplicated between five and 15 times, and each form travels an average of three miles by the time all copies are delivered, by hand, to the various MPD offices, according to Perot Systems.
No wonder the cops always look so tired, and no wonder LL doesn’t see that many patrolling the streets. They’re spending all their time and energy walking Xeroxes around 300 Indiana Ave. NW.
And no wonder Chief Larry Soulsby has been asking civic groups, including the Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals Association, to donate copy paper and other supplies to keep the department running.
(Before long, civic groups may be holding bake sales to support their local police officers. Jill Lawrence, community beat co-captain for Capitol Hill’s Beat 26—which includes Eastern Market and the home of Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton—last month raised $1,000 to buy Polaroid film, copy paper, and other supplies for the beat’s cops. She ruled out a bake sale or yard sale—“I don’t think those things make much money”—and instead petitioned area merchants and Masonic Lodge members. Lawrence also secured a car for use in undercover work. Now officers won’t have to drive their own automobiles, thus sparing them inevitable squabbles with their insurance companies. “Anybody who has a nondescript car, please contact your local police station,” Lawrence implored this week. “They need it.”)
Department officials are also keeping a tight grasp on the report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), completed before former Chief Fred Thomas stepped down last year.
The PERF report was the product of a six-month analysis of MPD by national law enforcement experts. The experts reportedly recommended re-drawing the city into 17 to 21 new police districts—instead of the current seven—to reduce the amount of time officers waste getting to their work assignments. The PERF study also reportedly slammed the lack of professionalism displayed by some MPD officers.
The department has been adamantly private about the PERF study, even turning down D.C. Council Judiciary Committee Chairman Bill Lightfoot when he requested a copy. MPD officials say they have not distributed the Perot and PERF reports because the two documents were prepared for internal use in an ongoing effort to reorganize the department.
“We are taking those aspects we can realistically use,” said MPD spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile. “A lot of that stuff, we just don’t have the money to do it.”
OR NO BOTHER?
Speaking of cops and technology, Lightfoot, with his background in technology, may be in the ideal position to launch the public debate over police and privacy. He says he expects to address the issue soon. (It will have to be very soon indeed: He is retiring from the council at year’s end.)
If he does start discussing cops and technology, Lightfoot will have to grapple with the concerns raised by the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s National Rainbow Coalition and some local activists. They worry that arming cops with too much high-tech equipment could threaten the civil liberties of D.C. residents.
“The concern, and I think it is justified, is that these new information systems can be used to identify poor people—because they have more contact with the police—and can track people literally block by block,” says a technology consultant to MPD.
“We have the potential to develop Big Brother in the worst sense of science fiction,” Lightfoot said in an interview this week. “Providing the tools to fight crime is appropriate as long as information in the computer system does not invade innocent people’s lives.”
Some D.C. police officials are not waiting on Lightfoot’s hearings or the release of the studies paid for by D.C. taxpayers. At least one police inspector, First District Commander Alfred Broadbent, has agreed to provide arrest reports—which are public information—to Capitol Hill residents to input into their personal computers.
“We have a right to know who’s committing the crimes in our neighborhood,” says a Capitol Hill resident working closely with Broadbent.
Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) met privately with a small group of D.C. residents advocating a public safety commission to oversee the police department. Hatch told the gathering it had to recruit more heavy-hitters, including local officials and church leaders, before he would be willing to push the creation of a federal commission.
But Hatch could better serve the city by holding public hearings—the kind that Lightfoot’s committee should be conducting—on the findings and recommendations of the suppressed PERF and Perot reports.
Hard times inspire creativity, and the District’s budget crisis is no exception. Last week, someone filled a pothole in the 2400 block of Kalorama Road NW…with a full-size mattress. This idea has potential: D.C. residents can clear their streets of uncollected trash and recyclables, and solve the city’s pothole epidemic at the same time….
Members of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and others complain that LL last week wrongly linked the organization to an upcoming March 19 workshop on self-defense. The workshop for Hill residents, which will discuss “legal guns” and other weapons, is being sponsored by the Community Policing Council (CPC), a loose-knit coalition of community organizations concerned about public safety. The CPC is a nonprofit subsidiary of the Restoration Society.
“We’re doing it as an educational forum because there’s so much confusion, and no one else was willing,” says Sally Byington, head of the CPC. “A lot of little ladies up here who live alone have come to me and said they want to know how to use guns.”
CPC member Nancy Simpson also notes that—contrary to LL’s report—only one manufacturer’s representative will attend the session. In addition, Simpson says, weapons will merely be demonstrated, not sold. The workshop will be conducted by MPD officials….
D.C. Democratic Party Finance Chairman Jim Lawlor says singer Stevie Wonder did not bill the party for copyright fees when he visited here in October 1994 to pick up an award the party bestowed upon him (See “Loose Lips,” 2/23). Some of Wonder’s recordings were played during the dinner. But the $6,000 that local Democrats had to shell out to honor the musician—three times as much as they had expected, Lawlor admits—all went to cover traveling expenses for Wonder, his entourage, and his security detail.
“It has nothing to do with copyright infringement,” Lawlor says. CP