March 20, 2004

Watchdogging Police Reports

TalkLeft's got a story on police falsifying crime reports either by downgrading them or not reporting them at all. If true, it's a horrible example of a failure in information systems, one that could be easily remedied by simply providing a feedback loop for the crime victim to know and understand what is going on with his case. Simply by creating an extranet that contains the public record portion of all open crimes you have most of the problem solved. You hand the crime victim (or closest appropriate family member or guardian) a serial number and give them an access password so they can keep those who should be informed, informed. So if you file a complaint for rape and see it's filed under misdemeanor assault, you can raise a stink immediately. And that's really the point because once police know that they're going to get monitored, their incentive to make the numbers look good disappears because falsifying a report will look much worse than any possible gain from fudging the numbers.

The dumb ones might still try it but they're likely to get fired, and that's a good thing. The data entry overhead for such a system means it probably won't work for very small towns that aren't computerized but that's likely not where the problem is. The big issue is likely to crop up in cities that are already computerized.

What makes this solution even better is that you could probably organize the victims groups, the civil libertarians, and the police watchdog groups to create a generic program that can be customized, release it as open source, and give it as a gift to the police forces of America. And Mr. Police Chief, Mr. Mayor, why is it that you don't want to accept a free system whose only effect is to give crime victims easy access to information they have a right to anyway? The politics of it make a continued coverup very difficult to maintain.

Furthermore, since the code is open source, the police may have their own ideas about usefulness and add features that actually improve policing by making it easier to enter the data they already have to input. In the end, I suspect that police will find such a system as useful in their job as police car cameras are for the honest cop.

Posted by TMLutas at March 20, 2004 10:13 PM