Friday, October 26, 2001

Police improvements could cost millions

Records management, communications are pricey

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati police say implementing the U.S. Department of Justice's list of recommendations would cost millions.

        Officials started picking apart the 23-page preliminary report Thursday. And some of the pricetags, according to Lt. Dan Gerard of the division's fiscal and budget section, are steep.

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        That's particularly true, they said, for those involving technology, which the division has long been trying to upgrade:

        • The Justice Department recommended a computerized records-management system. Cincinnati officials looked at the same idea about nine months ago, but decided it couldn't afford the vendors' estimates: $2.5 to $4 million;

        • A better computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system should be installed to give officers more information on calls, the federal investigators said. Cincinnati originally had this in its capital improvement budget for 2000, but now it's set for 2003. Pricetag: $2.5 million.

        Budget makers already have to try to figure out how to pay for a new computerized records system to track and analyze the new race information cards officers are filling out on traffic stops. And that price tag is much smaller: $400,000.

        As of now, Lt. Gerard said, University of Cincinnati graduate students will have to count each card by hand and create a database.

        So as for the separate technology budget the Justice Department suggested? Lt. Gerard would love to have it.

        “We're looking into these things all the time,” he said. “We just don't have the money.”

        Officials go online almost every day looking for grants. But most of them, he said, go to smaller or rural departments.

        The Justice Department did not include suggestions on how the city should pay for the changes, which come at a time when city departments already are being asked to make budget cuts. The last Lt. Gerard heard, the division will have to cut 4 percent from its total budget of about $100 million.

        The police division released a brief statement Thursday afternoon in response to the wide-ranging Justice Department list of suggestions on use of force, reporting, public accountability, training and monitoring. It said Chief Tom Streicher and other officials would meet with police over the next few days to talk about the recommendations.

        Then, Chief Streicher will meet with Justice Department officials again to discuss the division's response. Both sides have stressed that this has been a cooperative process and that the document is the beginning of a lot of dialogue.

        Paying for better technology has long been a problem for the police division, which didn't have any personal computers when Mike Snowden took over as chief in late 1992. He bought the first one, for his office, and started a program to equip the department with more.

        “That's how far behind we were,” he said.

        He doesn't recall ever getting much money from the city to buy computers or software. He used money from forfeited assets. “Without that, we wouldn't have been able to buy anything,” he said.

        The division still has that money, Lt. Gerard said, but prefers to use it for training. It's also sometimes restricted, he said — a drug dealers' assets, for example, must be used to pay for things related to drugs.

        Virtually every one of the Justice recommendations would have cost implications, Lt. Gerard said. Even some that might seem innocuous, such as the recommendation that officers be required to use their cruiser cameras more often.

        That, he said, would require tapes in more than 200 cars to be changed every day, which means buying more tapes. And the recommendation that the tapes be kept longer than the current 30-day policy now would require that more space be found or built for the tapes to be stored, Lt. Gerard said.

        Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman said there are tremendous personnel costs associated with each recommendation. Each call for more reporting will require either more officers and supervisors to be hired or for the current ones to spend less time on the streets of the city.

        “It's easy to talk about pie-in-the-sky ideas,” he said. “But you have to know there's a cause-and-effect here that people need to be aware of.”


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