- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Glitches in the Metropolitan Police Department’s new data-management system are preventing officials from producing a key comprehensive crime report that tells authorities whether the crime rate is getting better or worse in D.C. neighborhoods and across the city.

Internal dissemination of the police department’s Morning Crime Report, which details every crime reported the previous day alongside comparative statistics from longer periods of time, has been suspended for more than a month because of problems with the new data-management system, called I/Leads, police officials confirmed.

The system, which the department began using in December 2011 and which has cost $1.8 million to date, was created by a company called Intergraph and links information that previously had to be accessed through separate systems such as crime, arrest and investigative reports. I/Leads ran side by side with the department’s old record-management system for nine months, until mid-September, when the old system was retired.

Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said officials began to notice issues, ranging from the incorrect categorization of crimes to duplication of data from a single crime, that required a team of technology support specialists from the system vendor and the police department to scour and verify thousands of records by hand.

“We have an extensive team of people from both MPD and Intergraph working around the clock to identify and resolve the known issues, and we will be up and running as soon as possible,” Ms. Crump said in an email.

She said the department still has access to daily crime reports and reviews the reports in crime briefings. She said the glitches are “only with the system that sorts the data and places it in categories to be compared to other periods in time.”

“We still know what crime is occurring, when it is, and we still act on it,” she said.

Intergraph officials did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Though police analysts began noticing discrepancies in crime data immediately after the conversion to the new system, it was not until Oct. 23 — the day of a story in The Washington Times that cited statistics from a Morning Crime Report — that the department suspended dissemination of the document. The report from Oct. 22 detailed crimes recorded during Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s signature All Hands on Deck three-day crime-fighting blitz.

The statistics obtained by The Times indicated that despite the extra presence of police officers on city streets, the District saw 61 robberies from Oct. 19 through 21, an increase of 21 robberies recorded over the previous Friday-through-Sunday period.

The police department disputed the numbers used in the story — saying just 49 robberies had been recorded during the three-day period. Shown a copy of the internal report cited in the story, police have been unable to explain the statistical discrepancy.

Police union Chairman Kristopher Baumann said police officials for the past year have been unwilling to provide copies of the Morning Crime Report to the union and the union has filed weekly Freedom of Information Act requests for the statistics, which previously were shared among a broad section of top-level staff.

This week he got a response from the department saying the reports had been suspended “until all issues with I/Leads have been satisfied.” Until the police response, it was not clear that the glitches in the records system were the cause of the decision to suspend the crime reports.

The District is poised to record fewer than 100 homicides for the first time since 1963, but violent crime has been trending upward, fueling an appetite for the publicly available crime data. The lack of the daily reports coupled with the department’s online crime-mapping blackout left Mr. Baumann, a frequent critic of the department’s leadership, skeptical of the city’s current crime numbers.

“The only time they have issues like this is when the news is bad,” Mr. Baumann said.

The department’s online crime-mapping technology, which allows users to access crime data for all parts of the city, has been disabled twice this year. The crime maps were first taken down in January and February to enable the department to reorganize data for newly realigned police districts. The information blackout coincided with a 40 percent increase in violent crime. The technology was disabled again in mid-September during the conversion to the new system.

The department says the switch will pay off in the long run by enabling greater productivity and intelligence on investigations.

“The new system also provides for more robust crime analysis in a user-friendly manner,” Ms. Crump said. “This will better inform our decision-making for critical tasks such as resource deployment and the ability to quickly respond to trends in crime.”

In Arizona, the Mesa Police Department reported experiencing a 10 percent reduction in violent crime within the first year the I/Leads system was implemented, in part because of the timely information-sharing the system allowed.

But in Fairfax County, which adopted the system in 2010, it was reported that the agency saw a significant drop in the number of traffic tickets written because police officers found the program to be too cumbersome. The Washington Post reported in 2010 that during the first five months the program was in use, the number of traffic tickets issued decreased by 28 percent, or approximately 17,500 tickets, and led to a $1 million loss in revenue.

The new system also is not proving popular among D.C. officers on the street.

“It is not user-friendly. It’s not intuitive,” said one 10-year department veteran who was not authorized to speak publicly about the new system. “If this was a website, no one would ever come back twice.”

While the new system has advantages, including making it possible to look up reports from any police district in the system rather than retrieving a paper copy of a report from a district station, the patrol officer said the processes for tasks such as report-writing or research are clunky and time-consuming.

“We’re all stumbling around just to get down the basics. No one wants to learn the advanced features,” he said.

Expecting a learning curve with the new system, D.C. police continue to train officers and to respond to issues they identify, Ms. Crump said.

“Like any transition, some of the officers learned the system quickly, and they like the expanded capability,” she said. “Others are more comfortable with the former system they have been using for the past several years.”