LAPD eyes PDAs to monitor racial profiling
By Ephraim Schwartz
(IDG) -- With a promise that the Los Angeles Police Department is open to innovative technology solutions, Captain Randal Quan, project manager for the Portable Officer Data Device System (POEDS) program, said the LAPD is about to publish its RFP (request for proposal) to use wireless PDAs and software to monitor racial profiling.
The POEDS program is meant to be compliant with a civil rights consent decree, and is part of a larger agreement reached between the city of Los Angeles and the United States Justice Department in the Rampart Area Corruption Incident by the Los Angeles Police Department. In the Rampart case, the LAPD was accused of a pattern of excessive force, false arrests, and unreasonable search and seizure.
Although the LAPD denied the allegations, the agreement was reached in order to avoid what the city considered as possibly divisive and costly litigation and to promote the best-available practices. The decree was approved by the courts last June.
As part of the decree, LA police officers are required to complete written or electronic reports each time an officer conducts a motor vehicle or pedestrian stop. The POEDS program is intended to collect data on every vehicle or pedestrian stop made by a police officer and to evaluate if, among other things, there is a pattern of racial profiling or other discriminatory practices.
In the course of each stop, the officer is required to record 18 separate fields of information including the driver's apparent race, ethnicity, or national origin; driver's gender and apparent age; and the reason for the stop, with seven separate check boxes nested under reason for stop.
The RFP will be posted on the LAPD Web site and published in high-tech journals within one or two months, according to Quan.
With limited resources, the department is looking for a ruggedized PDA that can use its existing wireless infrastructure so the department can avoid a monthly wireless service charge, Quan said.
"We also want it to read the mag [magnetic] stripe on the back of the driver's license with infrared, perhaps, so it automatically populates the data into the form," Quan said. The mag stripe on a California driver's license contains the same information as appears on the front of the license.
Quan declined to call it racial-profiling monitoring software, instead saying that the PDA should be able to have all the functionality needed to capture the fields required by the consent decree.
"We don't know how they are going to measure [compliance with the decree] and what they will use as a benchmark for profiling," Quan said.
Quan called on the high-tech industry to offer innovative solutions.
"I encourage everyone in high-tech to write a proposal. If people feel they have a solution in software or hardware or with something no one has ever seen out there, we welcome that. We are not grounded in what our vision is. We are open-minded to technology," Qaun said.
Beyond the consent decree compliance, Quan sees many other benefits to the LAPD with wireless technology. With only 8,900 officers to cover a city 465 square miles in size, real-time wireless access to data would allow an officer in the northern part of the city looking for a suspect to receive an alert if a patrolman in the southernmost part of the city made a stop and found, upon scanning in the driver's license, the suspect in the alert matched the driver's name.
"I'm hoping technology will allow us to use the PDA as monitors for real-time video. When a helicopter is following a suspect, we want our ground unit to see what our air units see," Quan said.
Many times when an observer in the air tries to relay to the ground unit the location of a perpetrator, such directions as 'He's in the second house on the corner' can be misinterpreted.
"The officer on the ground may not understand which corner and from what direction. The real-time video on the PDA could show the officer the front door. It would minimize the liability of the officer and the public," Quan added.
The original RFP was terminated on review by the city attorney and the mayor's office after deciding it needed clarifications. The revised RFP will be published in March or April, according to Quan.
While the LAPD is now under a court order, many states have been taking similar steps, according to John Dore, vice president of Public Safety and Government at Aether Systems, in Owings Mills, Maryland.
Aether's Stop Tracker application is in beta testing and trials now with a number of law enforcement agencies.
Stop Tracker collects data similar to the kind of information required by the Los Angeles consent decree. Once the information is collected, it is transmitted via a Palm, Pocket PC, or RIM device back to a server, where the program logs stops made by each officer and analyzes the data to determine if a particular officer's behavior is out of the normal range of behavior or trends as determined by the agency. However, this type of software is no longer receiving the same priority attention it used to, according to Dore.
"On the 10th of September, racial profiling was the hottest thing. On the 11th, a whole bunch of things changed, Dore said.
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