Columbus police may finally get $2.5M computer reporting system

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 1, 2012 

The city of Columbus finally may have the money to buy a $2.5 million law-enforcement tool police have wanted for decades.

It’s a computerized records management system that automates crime reporting, a process now so paper-heavy that Maj. Stan Swiney believes the new system could cut the department’s paper use by 90 percent.

The networked system facilitates real-time crime reporting, reducing the hang-time between when a resident reports an offense and a record of it registers in the police department’s database.

Built into the system are triggers that alert investigators when a trend or crime wave is developing in a specific area, enabling them to anticipate where criminals are likely to strike next.

Swiney and Police Chief Ricky Boren briefed Columbus Council on the proposed purchase Tuesday. If councilors approve, the records system will be added to the city’s fiscal year 2012 mid-year budget adjustment.

City administrators say revenue collections for the fiscal year that began July 1 are exceeding projections, allowing more flexibility in second-half spending.

Paper protocol

Swiney said that today patrol officers fill out hard-copy offense reports to submit to their sergeants, who review the paperwork and sometimes order corrections.

The paper report then goes to the police records room, to be filed and copied for higher-ranking officers to review, and to be forwarded to personnel compiling statistics and conducting crime analysis.

To gather data for crime analysis, information from paper reports has to be entered into computers by hand, leading to human errors.

The police department tracks crime statistics monthly, and under the current, paper-heavy system, it takes two weeks after each month’s end to generate a monthly and year-to-date crime report.

With an automated records-management system, a resident’s call to the 911 center readies a file for a report, and after the officer has investigated, the computer prompts him or her to fill out a report on a laptop and submit it to a sergeant via the network.

Once the officer’s supervisor signs off on that report, it automatically goes into the database. Records clerks, detectives and commanders can review that and other reports on computers, without shuffling through stacks of paper or typing in data.

Crimes analysis is simplified by automated tracking of similar offenses -- and similar suspects or vehicles -- in the same area.

“In other words, we’ll know the trend as the trend occurs because the machine is constantly looking for it and alerts us, and it doesn’t get tired and it doesn’t need to go to lunch, and just sits there and crunches the numbers,” Swiney said.

The police department has wanted computerized records management for at least 20 years, since Swiney first went to work in its administrative services division in the early 1990s, he said.

“We’ve been like Russian czars -- we’ve had a five-year plan running for about 20 years,” he said.

If council approves, buying the system will be just the first step, he said. If police had signed contracts for it today, they still would need about 18 months to get everything installed and everyone trained to use it, he said.

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