'Bugs and errors' in OPD's $6M computer system to track officer misconduct, racial profiling

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A federally appointed court monitor tasked with overseeing Oakland police has concluded that the department has spent $6 million on a computer system to track officer conduct, which doesn’t really work.

That means the department's promises to to fix racial disparities in policing, track how often officers use weapons and when they get involved in high-speed chases, for example, are not being adequately tracked, according to a story first reported by East Bay Express

This month, Independent Monitor Robert Warshaw detailed the concerns about the cost overruns and the numerous problems with the computer system in his 50th report to U.S. District Judge Warren Orrick. He specifically criticized the Microsoft-built computer system, called the Performance Reporting Information Metrics Environment or PRIME.

There "have been many concerns over the status of PRIME, beginning with delays in implementation, to continuing issues with 'bugs' in data collection, and errors in data available. ..." he wrote in the January report.

As a result, Oakland police are behind schedule in launching a fully operational version of the database. The existing system, called PRIME 1.0, has few of the capabilities that OPD promised, the report found.

"It's just taking too long and it's costing too much money and I think I speak for everyone in the city -- we're all disappointed but we have to keep plugging away. This has to happen. This is not optional. This is a must system that has to be implemented," said civil rights attorney Jim Chanin.

Police and city officials have a status conference with the judge to discuss this issue and more on Friday. Oakland police on Wednesday referred all questions to the city.

 "The existing system has some usability issues in the areas of user input (e.g. forms), areas where the requirements were not completely understood and/or properly implemented, and some fundamental architectural decisions need to be revisited and revised," Karen Boyd, communications director for Oakland, wrote in an email to KTVU on Wednesday. "These issues need to be addressed to improve the overall usability, maintainability, and extensibility of the system."

As some examples of the problems that Warshaw found, the computer system doesn't allow OPD supervisors in the field to access body camera video footage and can't integrate information such as field training records and police academy records into the database so that they can be reviewed alongside internal affairs information. Also, data analyzed by Stanford University also hasn't been folded into the database, meaning that supervisors can't track evidence of racial bias and profiling, which the police department promised they would do in June of last year.

In addition, charts presented at a citywide meeting last year, for example, left out data that permitted calculation by race and of the number of people stopped for whom there was no definitive reason. "That means, it was not possible to know, and therefore, to attempt to remedy, large racial disparities that could be identified," the report found.

So if there is a real interest in reducing "unproductive stops" and reducing the potential problems of bias, the actual work can't be quantified because of the faulty software.  "The definition and measurement of these outcomes remain unclear," Warshaw wrote. 

The city has already spent at least $6 million building, implementing and maintaining PRIME. But now the department might have to spend millions more to develop a new system that actually works.

"If they want a police department that's in the 21st century, enforces everyone's rights equally and continues to lower the crime rate, as it has been, you want this system because it's very important from both a civil rights perspective and a crime-fighting perspective," said Burris.

"This is an extremely complicated project, and much good work has been done over the years.  Unfortunately the project suffered early on from staff transitions, and areas where the requirements were not completely understood and/or properly implemented," said Boyd.

Bids are out to four vendors - Microsoft, Accenture, Outsystems, and Sierra Systems. A vendor has not yet been selected and must be approved by the federal court-appointed Compliance Director.