There as an article in the Washington Post yesterday about a new $27 million Fairfax County, Virginia police records management system called I/LEADS that is causing heartburn among police officers there.
The system (which began development in 2007) was introduced in January, and according to the Post, "was supposed to eliminate mountains of paperwork and allow officers to enter traffic tickets, arrest data and vital intelligence into an online system that would be instantly available to detectives and anyone who needed it."
Instead, police officers are complaining that the system is cumbersome, not user friendly and often unreliable, all of which has resulted in a major drop off in traffic tickets being written in the county of 1 million residents, which is just outside of Washington, DC. Traffic citations are off some 28% from last year.
One of the reasons, the Post story says, is that an officer sometimes has to spend up to half an hour writing out tickets because he or she must fill out the information on multiple screens, and when the I/LEADS system finds an error, "it doesn't tell where in the report the error is." So some police officers apparently are overlooking minor traffic offenses rather than issuing a ticket and dealing with the system.
The Police Department management says it is all just a learning curve issue, and that they had expected some problems early on. If traffic citations are still way off by the end of the summer, then the system will be reviewed in more detail.
Many patrol officers think that is inevitable, since they think the system design is flawed.
They may have a point.
In the Fairfax County description of the I/LEADS system, it does seem that the requirements and design criteria of the system were focused not so much on helping patrol officers do their daily tasks faster and better, but more on improving the overall management of police assets. To wit:
"The new system will improve reliability, accuracy, quality of data, and will operate on the principles of 'single point of data entry' and query. The I/LEADS System will be based upon proven technology derived from current industry and County standards. The system will expand the capacity of the Police Department, allowing it to better analyze - statistically and through spatial techniques - data on incidents and personnel. It will also aid in identifying trends, and assist in staffing decisions and monitoring departmental effectiveness. Intelligence led policing; improved criminal justice; and overall strategic public safety resource deployment will be improved upon implementation."
Looks like another classic case of building an information management system to gather operational information that management will use without really considering the impact on those line individuals required to gather that operational data.