By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"TEAMS can’t put together complete and detailed information about officers’ patterns of conduct. It all has to be researched by hand," said Katherine Mader, the LAPD’s first inspector general, who resigned in November 1998. "If someone in the Devonshire Division [in the San Fernando Valley] is handling a personnel complaint for discourtesy and notices five prior complaints for discourtesy, that person has to drive downtown and manually search through file cabinets and boxes for the details."
Mader’s criticism echoes that of Special Counsel Merrick Bobb in a 1996 report examining the implementation of Christopher Commission recommendations. "The LAPD does not yet integrate dispersed information about officer conduct and performance," wrote Bobb, a lawyer commissioned by the city to monitor progress on LAPD reform. "Different categories, different databases, different definitions and different structures for oversight . . . preclude comprehensive analysis and systematic management . . ."
Bobb criticized the synopsis available on TEAMS as "bare-bones" and added that "a supervisor or manager wishing to learn greater details . . . will still have to make a trip downtown to review a paper file."
"Although modest piecemeal steps have been taken, the LAPD still lacks a comprehensive system and fully elaborated procedures to identify, control and manage at-risk situations and at-risk individuals and thus has not yet implemented the Christopher Commission recommendations in this regard," Bobb said of the TEAMS system in his report.
There is a precedent for the kind of system the commission envisioned, right here in Los Angeles County. The Sheriff’s Department has implemented a Personnel Performance Index system using $1 million in narcotic-forfeiture funds and another $3.5 million in department staff time. It took five years — from 1992 to 1997 — to get it designed and operating.
The PPI system tracks lawsuits, claims, uses of force, complaints and commendations, said PPI program administrator Lieutenant Janet Williams. Every time there is a data entry concerning one of the Sheriff’s Department’s 14,000 employees, the system locates all other data associated with the individual involved.
"The unit commander has access to everything that ever happens, when it happens, in his area," Williams explained. "If you have the authority, you can actually go in and read about a particular investigation."
That allows supervisors to monitor patterns, to spot trends and, ultimately, to intervene with problem officers. "You can say, ‘I want to see everyone at my bureau that has two complaints and three uses-of-force reports,’" she said.
Williams said the system has been embraced by the department brass, and has resulted in sharply reduced court penalties and awards stemming from deputy misconduct. "Since 1991, when we went into this aggressive risk-management approach, our whole [structure of] financial payouts has changed," Williams said.
But the LAPD couldn’t adapt the Sheriff’s system, said Bill Russell, commanding officer of the department’s Support Services Group, because its computers use a different language and all the LAPD data would have to be re-entered. "The existing data structures use different programs in different languages programmed at different times."
Experts say it’s true that matching separate, dated computer systems can pre sent difficult technical problems. "It’s very hard, it’s one of the main kinds of problems in data management," said Scott Parker, chair of the Data Base and Knowledge Base Field Research Project at UCLA’s computer-science department. Parker compared attempting to meld systems that are already operating to "changing out all the rivets of a 747 while it’s in the air."
He was skeptical of the LAPD’s continuing delays, however, suggesting that the department could not be trying very hard if they still have to root around in boxes. Parker called their approach "stodgy" and quipped, "They’re scared of their 747."
Officials at the Police Commission took a second stab at forcing the LAPD’s technological hand three years ago, when then–commission President Raymond Fisher recognized the current system as inadequate and began to look for funding for a bigger, better TEAMS — TEAMS II.
Fisher explained in a recent phone interview that he began discussions with the federal Department of Justice (DOJ), whose Civil Rights Division was open to supporting the development of a monitoring system that could be replicated in other cities. In January 1997, almost five years after the Christopher Commission issued its recommendations, Fisher wrote the Justice Department to request funds for a study to determine the best system for L.A.
At the time, the L.A. Sheriff’s Department was closing in on its own design, and there was some inclination then to see if the system could be easily adapted for the LAPD, but "the language couldn’t translate across," Fisher affirmed. "We concluded that it would make more sense to design it ourselves, since we would save little if any time translating from the Sheriff’s system."
Eight months after Fisher’s application, in August — the month Bernard Parks took over as chief — the DOJ approved a $158,000 grant under its Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program for a study. But the final approval to cut loose the money was delayed by red tape, and by Parks’ apparent effort to put his own stamp on the project.