Los Angeles is a capacious megalopolis that begins at Tijuana and ends at San Francisco. A rugged portion of that geography falls under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department, serving some 4 million people in the almost 500 square miles of L.A. proper.
From Rodney to Rampart, the world's most highly scrutinized cop shop boasts 13,000 employees, 40 horses, two bloodhounds, 20 German shepherds, two boats and 26 helicopters. The third largest law enforcement entity in the nation is considered by some to be a miracle of modern policing, by others a marauding beast.
Under Police Chief Charlie Beck, who is decidedly more open-minded than his predecessor, William “Cagney” Bratton, LAPD has achieved a 20 percent reduction in total gang crime and a 10 percent reduction in total crime compared with 2010.
Apparently not everyone is celebrating, however. Attacks on cops are up 13 percent, with 273 so far in 2011. Officer-involved shootings have more than doubled to 25, up from 12 during the same period in 2010. One analysis suggests the reduction in crime has come at a bloody cost. The numbers beg the eternal question: Who is policing the police?
The answer can be found at the Information Technology Division on the eighth floor of the Police Administration Building at 100 W. 1st St. No one here is surprised to hear “Ave Maria” in a hushed soprano emanating from Maggie Goodrich's office. Before she became chief technology officer of LAPD's Information Technology Division, she was a music major at USC.
Goodrich is a hybrid: part cop, part IT geek. The blonde with the clear blue eyes is the shot caller for TEAMS II, a technology Goodrich describes as “an early warning system” for identifying problem officers.
TEAMS II tracks the number of stops officers make, plus the number of pursuits, collisions, claims and lawsuits. It also compiles complaints against officers, investigations for use of force and discipline of officers.
“All that data is fed into the system at the end of the night,” Goodrich says. “Each employee is put into a peer group, so that they're being compared against officers doing similar jobs. There are several thresholds that are calculated by the system.”
Goodrich was a project manager at an e-commerce company, then got a law degree and took a temporary position in the mayor's office. The combination of law and technology landed the nefarious Department of Justice-LAPD consent decree on her desk — and got her a job with the LAPD.
TEAMS II was an essential part of the consent decree that was in place at the LAPD for eight years after the Rampart scandal, which overturned 100 convictions and cost the city $125 million in settlements.
The system notices any officer who engages in any one of five different risk activities, Goodrich says. “It does a calculation and, if the officer falls outside the norm or the average for the group, it flags the officer and notifies the supervisor. You can't turn a blind eye — you have to look at the employee.”
All LAPD employees have access to their TEAMS report. The Police Commission and the Inspector General's office conduct regular reviews and audits of TEAMS II.
The system also identifies officers who are performing in an exemplary manner, like Amanda Regina Scott, assistant commanding officer at ITD, who has been working for the LAPD for 24 years.
“You don't have to wait until an officer is in such deep corruption that there's no saving the officer,” Scott says. “As soon as something happens, we get notified. It's the police policing the police living in a glass house.”
Joe Siegel is vice president for justice and public safety at Sierra Systems, the software company that designed TEAMS II. He says the system “isn't too popular with the rank and file. … It's a Big Brother sort of thing. Finding a person who has those kinds of challenges … by the time it hits the numbers it might be too late. It's unique in that it requires action by supervisors. I don't think any other departments in the country are doing that. The system requires you to follow through. It mandates that some kind of action be taken.”
The LAPD also is on the cop-tech forefront with another domain that's gaining traction in law enforcement. It's called predictive policing. “It uses technology to deploy resources to take corrective actions before something happens … extrapolating statistics to predict the future,” Siegel explains. The LAPD “is starting to use technology in a pretty innovative way. People like Charlie Beck are open to that. The potential saving of liability claims and the reduction of lawsuits are a pretty important thing there.”
Ishan Shapiro is a social technologist and co-founder of ThinkState, a data-innovation consultancy based in Los Angeles. Shapiro says software companies “are putting systems into place that give all the stakeholders in a given entity the ability to input ideas, evaluate each other's ideas, rate and build reputation to leverage the collective intelligence of the group to solve problems and innovate on issues at hand.”
The LAPD is a closed system, however, which does not involve the citizens of Los Angeles, the stakeholders, in a meaningful way. TEAMS II, for example, is an entirely internal system.
“That doesn't work in a connected world,” Shapiro says, pointing to a more fundamental issue. “Even if they've got the latest and greatest technology at their disposal, is their approach going to bear fruit if they are not enabling communication with community stakeholders?
“Being on the forefront of technology means adopting different methods and approaches that fundamentally transform their current structure. Is changing the status quo something that anyone there is willing to take the risk to do?”