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Blueprint Magazine (Democratic Leadership Council), April 15, 2003
By David Billings
A Florida sheriff is using high-tech accountability to dramatically lower crime rates.
Ken Jenne, sheriff of Broward County, Fla., is taking the computerized model of community policing to a new level.
Jenne's system, called POWERTRAC, builds on the CompStat system, which was famously pioneered in New York City in 1994 by New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton. It let law enforcement officials crunch crime statistics with database technology to help target their resources more effectively.
Bratton's system allowed police to spot crime trends that might have gone unnoticed in the days when reports were stored mainly in paper file cabinets. But, as with most computer software systems, newer versions of the CompStat model have brought important enhancements.
When Broward County adopted CompStat in 1997, the system relied on awkward procedures for entering data and retrieving trend lines and other useful information. Officers called a software engineer to enter their reports into the system, and the output was crude. "It was a map where you would point and put pins into the wall," said Jenne. The labor-intensive process meant it could take a month for field reports to be entered into the system.
Sheriff Jenne, who took office in 1998, has been adding key improvements, both to the software and to his strategy for acting on the information the system produces. Inputting reports and retrieving trend data has become more efficient. Now, deputies file reports using keyboards in their cars. Sergeants review and approve the reports from terminals at the station and send them back electronically to deputies to enter into the system. The chiefs and the sheriff have full access to the data on terminals at their desks. Input time has been cut from weeks to a day or two.
Jenne requires his 15 district chiefs to report every five weeks on the trends in their districts. The reports must address 78 issues, and the chiefs must explain any trends that adversely affect the quality of life in their areas -- everything from graffiti to murder.
"It's a bit like an inquisition, but all done in a positive way," said John Flint, city manager of Weston, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. Weston has a contract with the Broward sheriff's department for its services. "Anyone who sees the process, you can't help but walk away ... impressed," Flint said.
The chiefs deliver their reports in the nerve center of the POWERTRAC system, a "situation room" with a conference table and multimedia equipment. The lights go down, and the chiefs present POWERTRAC data to a hushed audience of other senior officers. The sheriff leads the questioning.
"POWERTRAC is not just there as a glitz and glitter tool," said Flint. "It is something they use to bring about results for a greater level of accountability."
The push for accountability also extends to front-line officers, who are invited to contribute ideas about ways to increase the department's overall effectiveness. Every month, Jenne has breakfast with deputies to listen to their concerns. "It is never a gripe session," he said. It's about making sure all ideas are put on the table for consideration.
More timely and accurate information has allowed Jenne to apply his rigorous management style to finding efficient tactics for fighting crime.
The results have been dramatic. Since POWERTRAC's introduction, crime has declined 53 percent. The number of cases successfully closed has risen 40 percent. A total of 100,000 hours of overtime have been saved.
The system is more than a reactive crime-fighting tool. The ability to keep close tabs on trends allows the sheriff's department to get out in front of problems in the community by focusing on improving proactive interactions with the public. Jenne requires officers to attend civic meetings in their areas of responsibility. He also strongly encourages them to patrol with their windows rolled down so they can talk to residents. The goal, said Jenne, "is getting individuals to see the police as their ally."
During the chiefs' reports to Jenne, they must prove that they have addressed concerns raised by the community, whether in civic meetings or emergency calls. One out of every 20 callers is called back and asked to complete a short survey about the quality of the department's customer service.
"The impact on our community has been profound," said North Lauderdale City Manager Mark Bates. Besides a 50 percent drop in crime, "when we have our holiday parade, or our Easter egg hunt, or teen dance, they help out," he said.
Important advances in computerized management systems like POWERTRAC are being implemented in a number of places. The NYPD, meanwhile, has upgraded its original CompStat system with sophisticated new capabilities for tracking serious crimes, police behavior, and quality-of-life issues.