S.F.P.D. Officers Finally Have E-Mail, But Department Still Lags in Tech

For the first time in history, San Francisco police officers can hand a crime witness a business card and say, "If you hear or think of anything else, please send me an e-mail."

San Francisco's finest may have leaped out of the Bronze Age earlier this summer when officers were given their first-ever official e-mail addresses. But thanks to the byzantine workings of San Francisco government, it may be quite some time before the SFPD catches up with the age of information.

Consider another scenario where lack of technology hinders police work. A local hood shoots a corner-store clerk. A squad car rolls up to a man matching the perp's description. Unlike other city police departments across America, San Francisco cops can't pull up a mugshot or other key crime information on a laptop.

"If [the suspect] says, 'I'm Joe Smith,' and can answer every question correctly, officers can't detain them," says Susan Giffin, chief information officer at the SFPD. "Identifying people at the scene of the crime with a mugshot is critical. It's critical for officer safety, and it's critical for detaining people. But we can't look at mugshots."

This is hardly sci-fi: Database-linked wireless access is standard issue in modern police departments. It's useful for database background checks to figure out who's who in domestic-violence calls and other situations where cops must make quick, well-informed life-or-death decisions.

Another tech gap is slightly less dangerous, but more obviously bizarre. "They don't have cellphones," says Giffin, who was hired nine months ago after working as director of IT marketing for Cisco Systems. "If they're working on a gang incident, everybody else [involved] has a cellphone and calls each other to tell what's happening, and our officers don't have cellphones. It's ... it's ... it's just crazy."

There are signals of hope. That Giffin feels comfortable expressing her frustration in public suggests that Chief Greg Suhr backs her. She even has funding for positions designated to help create a departmentwide database, so that officers no longer have to photocopy, fax, and carry paper documents from file room to file room. She's seeking federal grant money to further the project. But it's no knock on her zeal and expertise to guess that she'll fail to improve San Francisco police technology to the level that officers achieve peak effectiveness.

The featherbedding culture of the San Francisco Police Department will see to it that Giffin is frustrated. Also in her way: a City Hall funding process that listens mostly to mau-mauers, and a city bureaucracy dedicated to ass-covering.


Part of the reason the SFPD got e-mail 15 years behind the rest of the world, won't get wireless mugshot access in the near future, and will likely spend years without modern tools to protect San Franciscans is that some members of the agency's tech staff don't have the relevant technology skills.

In a city full of unemployed tech-heads? How could this be? Easy: Seats meant for technicians are instead kept warm by cops.

"We still have very many sworn members who are trying to do technology jobs. But putting in a data warehouse is a challenging task," Giffin says. The way the SFPD has traditionally functioned, "if you need tech work done, you have no special tech funding, and so you have sworn officers doing it themselves. If you have a broken printer, you have an officer who took some classes, and he fixes the printer. That's the way it's been."

Part of the department's "technical" staff is made up of sworn police officers earning six-figure salaries and inhabiting desk jobs that cops consider sinecures reserved for officers who don't want to be, or shouldn't be, on the street.

There's hardly a politician in San Francisco willing to risk cops' wrath by calling for the abolition of this uniformed Aeron chair brigade. And there's insufficient money to take the politically safe route and hire enough technicians to work alongside ineffective deskbound police.


In October 2000, Claire Joyce Tempongko called police for the sixth time in 18 months, begging for protection from her violent boyfriend. He killed her after the final call. From that scandal emanated studies, hearings, and a government pledge to at last complete a 1970s-era project to build a Justice Information System, given the acronym JUSTIS. It was supposed to ensure effective tracking of data among police, the DA, probation workers, and the county jail.

In February 2010, I wrote about a stinging report describing how the city wasted $20 million dithering over the project ["Thirteen Years and $20 Million Later, City Still Trying to Computerize Justice Records," The Snitch, 2/5/10]. Plans had been launched, abandoned, restarted, then allowed to languish as SFPD brass repeatedly gave the brush-off to the city's computerization team. Recently the city jails became the first to install the system. Giffin says that police may or may not have their own part of it up and running in January. (Last year, the department announced it would be completed this June.)

JUSTIS, in short, is a civic joke.

What's not funny is that the closer the SFPD is to being an information black hole, the harder it is to tell when it's not doing its job.

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18 comments
Disgusting
Disgusting

So you go to your favorite Starbucks on a weekday morning to find a line out the door. As you get closer to the counter after waiting 20 minutes, you one employee taking your order AND making your cup while two other emoloyees are fixing the sink. Call a freaking plumber and start making coffee you three Baristas!!!

Get the cops on the street!!!

Ramona Fuller
Ramona Fuller

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Shakespeare-SF
Shakespeare-SF

Hmmm, several issues. Let's give Caesar what is due to Caesar and give Brutus what is due to Brutus. So lend me your ears.

Issue 1: Should cops be working in such a specialized field as I.T.? The answer, to me, should be NO. The main rationale is that the investment we have in training cops to be law enforcement officers, far outweighs any expected productivity when they use their I.T. skills. We need them in the streets and there are cheaper ways to deliver I.T. services via civilians.

Issue 2: So, once the SFPD transfers all the cops out of I.T., then the civilian directors will be able to build all these systems, databases and whatever? The answer is NO - it has been proven that they do not have the know-how either (examples: Justis, SFPD RMS, ???). And this is where the residents and politicians of San Francisco should hold these civilians accountable. Do not allow them to use the cops as the reason for their failure. They have failed and will continue to fail because they do not have the know-how. The cops in I.T., by them working there, have allowed the civilian directors a subterfuge for their grievous shortcomings.

Concerned SF Citizen
Concerned SF Citizen

I find this article interesting because I thought that police officers are to be patrolling the streets for criminals. Unless, these police officers are assigned to desk duty for behaviorial or disability issues...

Hopefully, someone here can clarify why city tax payers are paying for officers to sit at a desk.

SiliconValleySolutions
SiliconValleySolutions

Let's focus on what is needed.

SFPD needs to build transactional systems and analytical systems.

Transactional systems (OLTP) are neeeded to capture data about the business. Analytical systems (OLAP) are needed to make sense of the business and to make fact-based decisions. God bless SFPD if it doesn't have anyone in its staff, NOW, who has REAL experience in these areas.

It takes many years to develop the knowledge in the very complex areas of OLTP and OLAP especially Business Intelligence, ETL, Datawarehouse, Data Management and definitely, designing database systems. If your staff do not have that experience now, then you will continue to experience failure after failure.

You cannot just just rely on consultants - your employee-experts should be guiding those consultants. If your employee-experts have the experience noted above, you will be able to design excellent systems.

Good Luck

Henry
Henry

Next time you speak with the "Marketing" expert, ask her how much money has been spent (wasted) on the police report writing program, why the AFIS field fingerprint units have not been issued to the officers, why so many have held her post in the last ten years, why many of her staff members dislike her and are unhappy with the fact that she does not know what she is doing!!! What's really sad, is that she has the Police Administration fooled. I thought cops were supposed to be alert to shenanigans.

Transman417
Transman417

Sounds like the SFPD needs to hire an IT person to head their IT department instead of a MARKETING director! Who's bright idea was that?

HelpSFmayor
HelpSFmayor

I get the sense that the sfpd civilian staff do no know how to build these databases either.

has anyone at sfpd built these stuff ? there is a need for sfpd to have a core group of people who truly understand these things to the extent that their understanding of applicable technology, meshes with their understanding of the sfpd business.

and yes, to be successful, the person/s directing this endeavor must understantand both the technology and the business. otherwise, money wasted, again.

Mayor Lee should ask Chief Suhr to please rise to the occassion.

Justsayin
Justsayin

in your article, Ms. Griffin said ''' Giffin says that police may or may not have their own part of it up and running in January. (Last year, the department announced it would be completed this June.) '''

well, less than a month ago, July 7, before the members of the board of supervisors, ms. griffin told the supervisors that she feels confident she'll have this done by october. the supervisors should hold her accountable, dont you think so ?

has she really ever built datawarehouses ? MARKETING technology is quite simply a different ballgame - you actually must know about databases when building the systems that sfpd needs to build. so far, no one at sfpd, civilians included appears to know these stuff.

StopBlamingTheCops
StopBlamingTheCops

" She even has funding for positions designated to help create a departmentwide database, so that officers no longer have to photocopy, fax, and carry paper documents from file room to file room. "

so this staffing is on top of over 30 I.T. staff she already has ...sfpd i.t., for the last six years at least has always had at least 6 CIVILIAN programmers and spends a lot of money on vendors/consultants, and pays the City I.T. a whole bunch of money for services it doesn't know how to do - why does this article try to point the blame on the cops when the problem appears to be the lack of skills in building systems and databases, among the civilian I.T. managers/directors ...

check the figures here at the Controller's Office and you'll see how many civilians (staff, consultants, DT) have been involved on these failed projects and you'll see how much money has gone down the proverbial toilet ...

it's NOT the cops' fault.

northbay hustler
northbay hustler

Sounds like you might have a position in the I.T, Unit. Are you one of those well paid officers doing IT work instead of police work?

StopBlamingTheCops
StopBlamingTheCops

The answer is NO - and you are missing the point. The presence of cops in the I.T. unit is NOT the reason for the lack of success by civilians. It's so easy nowadays to blame the cops. And no, I am not a cop - reason tells me that they are being scape-goated.

FairIsFair
FairIsFair

and this CIO's expertise is MARKETING ... shouldn't the writer have questioned this ?

the cop who was sent to training to fix the printers just may have more technology experience than her ... fair is fair, I say ...

northbay hustler
northbay hustler

Did you know that up until this week the SFPD was planning on moving their domestic violence unit for a third time! They were planning on moving the unit responsible for domestic violence, elder abuse, and DV stalking to a substandard office in the Mission.

The DV community rallied and got the Chief to stop the move.

The SFPD does not take family violence seriously. If they did they would fully staff the DVRU and give them the equipment they need. Instead they constantly move them, don't replace staff, and change their schedules.

anonbosch
anonbosch

"What's not funny is that the closer the SFPD is to being an information black hole, the harder it is to tell when it's not doing its job."

Please reconsider.....it's friggin hilarious.

Sales
Sales

They lag in tech for a few reasons 1) the budget is consumed by their very high pay and benefits. 2) They have low tech IQ with a few exceptions.

The budget for cops has to leave enough for tech and training. More cops, more training, more tech, and likely a bit lower pay/benefits.

 

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