Edward Claughton, President
PRI Management Group
Collaborative reform. Consent decrees. The need for these is often based on issues that run deep within and throughout the agency, not on isolated problems that are one dimensional. They are matters which transverse organizational structure and transcend the obvious. They typically can be traced to deficient training, substandard hiring practices, poor leadership, bias and the like, all of which create a broken culture and bad performance. Yet one common denominator often overlooked is an issue that pervades law enforcement. It is an issue that sets the tone of a police agency; it serves as one of the most visible representations of the organization’s level of professionalism.
Next to the officer in the field, the assigned detective and the Chief’s/Sheriff’s public facing activity, it is the information produced by the agency that shapes the opinion of so many. From the crime stats which get published to the reports that are read by victims, attorney’s, insurance companies and the media, to the social media posts and videos posted, information is at the center of it all. When mismanaged, these sometimes high profile channels of information paint a picture of dysfunction, often rooted in reality. Once made public, the mismanaged information reveals bad crime data, missing records or improper use of law enforcement systems and when this happens, the agency faces a firestorm of media attention and criticism. One of the somewhat common elements of consent decrees over the years has been a determination that records and data have been mismanaged, leading to the production of bad information.
After working with literally hundreds of police agencies, we have seen professionalism shine through in
the investigative records, quality control procedure and accountability measures of those that are high-performing
organizations. We’ve also seen the decrepit, and sometimes outright malfeasant operations
of those which are dysfunctional, evidenced by the willful disregard for the proper management of the
agency, its staff, decisions and….records.
A recent crime stat audit conducted by PRI revealed the agency was over reporting violent crime by 17%, leading to an erroneous ranking as the most violent city in the state. Our job is to correct that problem and the damage it has done.
How do such mistakes occur? Sometimes simple negligence; a disregard for what some consider to be the menial task of records management, that is until they find themselves in the unenviable position of having to justify what happened. Then the proper management of case status, disposition and proper classification of reports suddenly becomes really important.
What we know at PRI is that records are important before most of our clients do. We have seen it
happen all too often and fortunately for law enforcement, help is available. And we’re really good at it.
Someone once said “you can’t fix broken culture? you can only fix the things that cause it; then
everything else will fall into line thereafter”. There is some truth to that. Sometimes fixing the obvious
requires going after the hidden.
In the 1990s when the City of New York underwent an unprecedented transformation, ending epic levels
of violence and disorder to becoming a safe city, the police department targeted the unexpected: low
level crimes and offenders, internal mismanagement matters, training and…information management
among other things. It sent a message; suddenly things had to be done correctly or face the
consequences. It worked.
Bill Bratton’s book, “The Turnaround: How America’s Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic” is a
fascinating read that any agency experiencing problems would benefit from.
If your officers and records staff aren’t held accountable to producing information which is accurate,
error-free and well-written, how can one expect the agency to perform the way it should when it comes
to the obvious?