Criminal Justice Information Compliance and Innovation

LERM Conference SponsorEdward Claughton, President
PRI Management Group
August 2016

Case-in-point: CalGang Database

Police agencies which refuse to recognize that quality control of police reports should include Records personnel correcting errors are begging for problems.  Quality control is an integral part of any industry which produces goods, services AND documents.

Recently at our LERM conference I was conducting a presentation on records operations and was interrupted by a naysayer who argued against QC of police reports. Said curmudgeon attempted the liability argument, the legal argument and, ultimately refused to think beyond the confines of ye ‘ol “that’s how we’ve always done it” approach. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written about this so it’s quite frustrating when I encounter this mindset, sometimes even from the agencies who hire us to fix things and don’t recognize it’s what got them into trouble in the first place.

So yet another case has made the headlines- and has made the argument for just exactly why police records need to be double checked even after supervisory review.

California gang database plagued with errors, unsubstantiated entries, audit finds

The statewide gang database in California has been found to contain plenty of people who shouldn’t be in it.  Due to a “lack of safeguards to ensure accuracy and security of CalGang records”, the database has people with incorrect birthdates, unsubstantiated connections to a gang and insufficient privacy controls. A recent state audit of the database revealed the following:

State guidelines recommend that law enforcement agencies perform quality control reviews; they require supervisory reviews. The state guidelines require reviewing information stored in a criminal intelligence file to determine whether it is current, accurate, relevant, and complete, and whether it continues to meet the needs and objectives of the responsible agency. (p.29)

The four law enforcement agencies we reviewed did not have processes in place to ensure that agency supervisors and quality control reviewers evaluated records before their entry into CalGang (p. 37)

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Why 2 Levels of Review and Correction Should Always Be in Place

Policecar2Notice what the above paragraph states- “…to ensure that agency supervisors and quality control reviewers evaluated records before their entry into CalGang”. Such should also be the case for reports in the Records unit- this is exactly the role of records personnel assigned to process incidents, arrests, supps, accidents and citations.  To be certain, to this day, I still meet plenty of records personnel who don’t even realize what their job is- who don’t even know what QC is, who don’t think they should be “checking” what officers write in reports. It is the agencies with this approach that will find themselves in the news, in an audit with poor results, in a lawsuit, and with a reputation that isn’t very good.

Those of you that know me or have worked with PRI know that we advocate strongly for records personnel but, we also advocate for getting with the program!

And to the officers and supervisors who get their feathers ruffled at the thought of someone in records “changing” their reports, stand-by a minute.  First, have you taken the time to learn about all the things that go on in Records and what they have to comply with?  Do you recognize that at the end of the day corrections to your reports only make you look better?  Do you know that reports, like any other document, are considered a draft until finalized according to the agency’s reporting process?

Quality control means, simply put, making sure that an agency’s documentation is accurate, error-free and well-written, especially prior to release for public consumption and/or prosecution.  Can one argue against that?

The arguments against records personnel checking/correcting reports most often center Building a Model Police Records Unit
around the illogical belief that once a report is written by an officer it can’t be changed.  These are often the same agencies that say it’s okay for a sergeant to review and kick-back or correct reports but not Records personnel- kind of the old sworn vs. civilian argument that is, quite frankly, ridiculous.  So once reports are submitted, sergeants can fix them but Records can’t?  

Quality control is so much more than this short-sighted argument.   And had it been occurring in the agencies using CalGang, there wouldn’t be a call now for a state takeover of the system.

If you happen to come from a jurisdiction with a prosecutor’s office, chief or sheriff which has directed your agency to leave reports as written by the officer without any corrections whatsoever, quality control can still occur.  Supplements can be written documenting the error and subsequent change, internal control documents can be created to track errors and corrections, and notes can be added to reports in the RMS which aren’t added to the report itself but only appended in a free-text field for internal review only.  But these are band-aids certain to slow down your operations and reporting turnaround time.  Spokane Police were recently reported to be 6 months behind in processing accident reports in Records.

Whatever the solution may be, it is imperative to recognize that correcting mistakes in police reports is fundamental to sound information management practices. And while I’m not advocating for changing something in a narrative that would alter the material facts of a case, correcting words that are misspelled, making changes necessary for UCR compliance and ensuring the report is completed correctly is just plain common sense. Identifying what mistakes Records personnel can change and what mistakes must go back to the officer is the first step (via a records management committee) to take in developing a comprehensive quality control program.

We’ve helped plenty of agencies with these kinds of strategic planning efforts and as a result improved reporting accuracy and timeliness of police data, all the while decreasing workloads and dissension among the troops. Develop a plan, share the vision, get everyone on the same page, implement the change, monitor progress and follow-up relentlessly.  

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