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.