July 29, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Photo: An LAPD mobile substation. Credit: Creative Commons/888 Bail Bonds
An IT system for identifying potentially improper behavior among police officers helped the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) get a consent decree lifted this month that aimed to ensure reforms within the agency after a 1999 corruption scandal.
In 2001, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles and the LAPD alleging a pattern of civil rights violations. The 1999 scandal that prompted the suit involved allegations of anti-gang officers planting evidence. Rather than going to court, the LAPD entered into a consent decree with the DOJ enforced by a federal court, mandating DOJ recommendations for improvement. With the recommendations now implemented to the DOJ's satisfaction, U.S. District Court Judge Gary A. Feess lifted the decree, transitioning oversight regarding the matter to the Los Angeles Police Commission.
One recommendation was an overhaul of the agency's Training Evaluation and Management Systems (TEAMS). The new system built by Sierra Systems Group is called TEAMS II, and the key to its functionality is a component called Risk Management Information System (RMIS). The RMIS extracts officer performance data collected daily on roughly 12 officer activity databases, organizes it in a data warehouse and compares officers to one another.
"We basically compare them to one another in order to alert supervisors to any officers that might be engaging in at-risk behavior," explained Maggie Goodrich, commanding officer of the LAPD TEAMS II Development Bureau. The LAPD hopes earlier intervention can eliminate problematic behavior before it leads to scandal.
The RMIS tracks complaints made against each officer by citizens or fellow officers, outcomes of the resultant investigations, use of force by that officer and the corresponding investigations, as well as lawsuits involving the officer. The RMIS also monitors vehicle pursuits, including the stops and arrests made and citations written. The system groups officers with others who do the same job and then compares the frequency with which each type of incident happens.
"It also calculates how many uses of force the officer engages in compared to the number of arrests," Goodrich said. The RMIS performs algorithms for several other combinations of conduct that could indicate at-risk behavior.
A mean is established as the baseline, and if an officer is a certain number of standard deviations greater than the mean for a particular action, his supervisor receives an automated notification. That supervisor's supervisor is notified as well, which gives the lower supervisor an incentive to take action, Goodrich said. The lower supervisor wants to be able to report that he or she executed some useful course of action if higher LAPD officials have questions later about the notification, she said.
In Goodrich's view, the practice of notifying supervisors directly makes the LAPD's RMIS different than many other early intervention systems. She said other police department systems often only send notifications to internal affairs and employee assistance units.
The LAPD built the RMIS on existing IT infrastructure. After refining the agency's existing officer activity databases for accuracy, the new RMIS was able to extract the needed data from them. The RMIS cost the LAPD roughly $5 million, not counting the cost of refining the existing databases, Goodrich said.
Goodrich added that it was difficult to quantify the amount of at-risk behavior the RMIS has prevented since its full implementation in March 2007. However, she gets glowing feedback from supervisors who tell of incidents of improper behavior that have been identified and then eliminated.
"I get anecdotal stories from different supervisors who say how it has helped them with this issue, but it's difficult to say, 'Here's the officer whose career we saved,'" Goodrich said.