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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 31, 2005 11:18 AM. The previous post in this blog was Wyman walks. The next post in this blog is Two faces have I. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, October 31, 2005

Score one for The O

The Oregonian's anti-meth zeal morphed into a really nice piece of journalism yesterday, as investigative reporter "Maximum Maxine" Bernstein masterfully revealed that the Portland Police Bureau's recordkeeping system is state-of-the-art for the turn of the century.

Unfortunately, it's last century.

People are still writing things out on paper, often by hand, cranking out faxes if they're in an ambitious mood, and having paid staffers run around driving dead-tree written reports all over town in city cars. (Be thankful they're not still on horseback.)

If someone steals your property, the only way for our bluecoats to work on your case is to sift through piles of written forms manually. Little is being collected, compiled, or sorted with even a minimum of electronic aid. We're way, way behind other bureaus in the region -- especially the smaller ones, which seem to have their tech houses in relatively good order. Our police appear to be at about a seventh-grade computer literacy level.

And there's not much hope for improvement on the horizon in Portland. Rather than buy a proven, off-the-shelf product, the city's apparently decided it's smarter than the market when it comes to computers. And so it's custom-designing its own system.

I repeat: Portland. Is designing. Its own. Computer software. Can you say, "Water billing system fiasco?"

Meanwhile, we're going all out to create a cloud of wi-fi so that bloggers can blog from the sidewalks, and the kids can send instant "U R so hott" messages to each other all day long. But when it comes to giving our frontline law enforcement officers even minimum computer assistance in solving and preventing crime, we can't get our act together.

Wow. Thanks, Oregonian, for an important story. That alone made this Sunday's paper worth buying.

Comments (13)

Apparently you don't realize how impossible it would be to convert an existing software program to meet Portland's unique needs. Such needs as, delete all trace and trail relative to specific data that may at a later time be considered unfit for public disclosure. You need to think
"sensitive" here.

Between this and his "oh, yeah, I might have read a memo a couple years ago about that pawnshop thing" excuse, I must say I don't have tons of confidence in Chief Foxworth these days.

Seems like the Wi-Fi cloud might ease one of the other problems the Police Bureau has, which is trying to push their data through their radio network. And to think those laptops inside the squad cars look so high-tech! I'm afraid I read that article with a feeling of "here's another case of Portland putting so many conditions on a project that it doesn't ever happen". Case in point today's(?) article about the lack of bids for the city wi-fi project - which would probably be easy if it weren't for the need to filter content, charge for use, etc etc etc. It's enough to make one cynical!

Jack,
Didn't see the article, but I worked with the Bureas file management system in my former profession and while PPDS is a bit old looking and feeling (resembles a DOS program) in terms of data mining I thouhgt it worked extremely well. It didn't have a graphical interface like a MS Access or some of the on line investigative tools like AutotrackXP, but it is a very useful and information rich tool. An investigator can do a lot with the data, but its still that, data. Still takes a flat foot to go out and make the case. There is no online image of reports written, if that was a point in the article. But, I've seen Seattle, Vancouver, Salems, OSP, Clackamas County, and others and none of them (at least a few years ago) had that. It's a data base that allwos you to mine for information and tells you where to go get a hard copy report if you need it. Technology is fantastic, no doubt, but it still comes down to written reports (Typed or in Ink) and storing paper files. GIS based databases are coming around and that will be helpful. I didn't think that Portland, or the umpteen other agencies that contribute data and use PPDS for file and case management was "Turn of the last century". Cutting edge no.....Usable and Solid...I thought so.

it still comes down to written reports (Typed or in Ink) and storing paper files.

No it doesn't. If you're satisfied with that, no wonder the crooks have taken this place over.

It shouldn't come down to paper - we can do better. Consider this - those computers inside police cars cost somewhere around $10,000 to deploy and basically all they're doing, because of the limitations of the radio network, are sending text messages back and forth between the dispatch center (BOEC in Portland). Pretty crazy.

Hillsboro is doing some cool stuff that will allow them to have high speed internet access in the car to truly turn them into mobile offices. They are building a platform that will allow them to move away from pens and paper.

Just more proof that not all (or any?) good ideas come from Portland.

Well, perhaps a watchdog blog just on the development of various IT solutions to Portland's bureaucratic problems is in order.

Here's another Portland db, lost in the cyberspace - http://pdxartwork.blogspot.com/

It has been over four decades since librarians recognized that the successful evolution of their service required embracing the use of computerized systems. It's been three decades since public libraries throughout the country began converting to computerized systems - initially through homegrown approaches.

By the late '70's it was generally recognized that the development of common, vendor-developed systems that would allow integration with other library systems was the best approach. The primary impetus for the transition was fiscal as service demand was far outgrowing the operational budgets. Vendors could provide the needed product for a set amount and get it up and running much more quickly than a wonk tinkering in the back room ever could. It wasn't rocket science - the transition was relatively quick, the fiscal payback was within a few years and the service improvement was immediate and dramatic. Sure, some systems had shakedown problems but complexities arising from local customization needs was typically the issue and they were ultimately resolved.

By the late '80s most of the public libraries in Oregon were into either their first or second generation systems. Many are now into their third or fourth generation.

It's downright scary that the Portland Police Department has reached this point and still doesn't seem to get it. Perhaps it's time to contract with the library system to help them get this mess sorted out and back on track. Either that or give them a serious financial incentive.

You've all missed a very important point....PPD already has a powerful computer-based stolen goods inventory and tracking system.....eBay!....at 0 cost to taxpayers, no less.

What's the matter with horseback? The City could tout a green communication system. And there could be a new bureau to collect the droppings. Which commissioner would be first in line for the Bureau of Horses**t?

Thankyou for calling our fare city officials on there less than stellar performance.It feels as though they are not leader material but individuals that are misguided and looking to do.....something.When that something is discovered its the wrong something.Oye vay! K

PPDS works fine. You run the queries and call to get the report faxed over, no big deal. There are also other local, state and federal databases to utilize. I don't think it is the best expenditure of taxpayer money right now.

I'd rather not waste the tax money on the upgrades that seem to just never come to fruition. Read about the FBIís Virtual Case File project fiasco and their attempts to create a modern case management system. From what I recall they were over $200 million mark with no useable system and more cost overruns predicted.

Letís say they do get a whiz-bang web based computer system up and running and we can link property crimes to suspects and establish patterns. There arenít enough resources in the DA's office to prosecute them and we sure as hell donít have the jail space to house them.

Add to your info on problems with police records.
Several months ago I called records for info re: accidents in Linnton. The lady said Linnton isn't in Portland. My tax bill says it is. Later, I got a weak "sorry" from someone in the chief's office. Oh! And the lady in records said she was a supervisor.


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