Computer system is key to SFPD reforms

August 26, 2009 7:11:50 PM PDT
The San Francisco Police Commission is meeting to consider whether to allow the police chief to hire commanders from outside the department.

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Newly hired Chief George Gascon reportedly wants to bring in two outsiders, but city law requires the chief's command staff to be department employees, at the rank of lieutenant or higher.

San Francisco supervisors are considering an amendment that would allow the appointment of officers from other law enforcement agencies, to ranks above captain.

Gascon has other changes in mind as well. He plans to use something called COMPSTAT to reduce crime in the city.

Gascon says it is the centerpiece of his reforms for the SFPD. He helped develop this computer crime tracking system when he was the assistant chief in Los Angeles.

Last week, ABC7 was invited to a COMPSTAT meeting, which the LAPD holds every Wednesday.

The biggest issue at the last weekly COMPSTAT strategy meeting was a gang shooting that occurred in South Los Angeles the previous night.

CRIME MAPS: Track crime in your neighborhood

Three people were shot, including a young teenager.

"That fact that a 13-year-old boy was killed, the emotions in the gangs are extraordinarily high," Captain Bob Green said.

Green is the commanding officer of the 77th Street police station. The shootings happened in his district.

Detailed crime statistics on the screens reveal emerging crime patterns.

"You've had a really tough month," Chief of Detectives Charlie Beck said. "I'm going to ask you what the specific issues are and what you're doing to address them."

The open exchange is frank; the focus is how to prevent retaliation.

"Once we have a gang shooting, we haven't had a retaliation because the interventionists are very much engaged," Green said.

"I would recommend talking to schools because this is going to spill over in your schools," Beck said.

Police Chief William Bratton and his command staff are among those attending the weekly meetings. He says the line of questioning can get tough.

"Oh, this is not just 'put your feet up on the couch and shoot the breeze,' this is really intended to be information sharing with the expectation that we'll get results," Bratton said.

Bratton helped develop COMPSTAT when he was police chief in New York. He brought the system to Los Angeles seven years ago.

Crime in both cities fell dramatically.

"We expect them to demonstrate an understanding of what the crime problem is and also to give us a solution or plan of attack on how they're going to solve the problem," Detective. Jeff Godown said.

Godown is head of the COMPSTAT unit. He and his staff load crime data into a citywide data base, then compile statistical summaries. Included is non-crime related information that could improve a station's performance.

"Overtime, risk management issues, hiring and recruitment," Godown said.

All of it is analyzed; crimes are tracked and mapped, problems identified, possible solutions are discussed.

The chief and the command staff attend the meetings, which means they can immediately assign resources to address the problems.

Much of the data that COMPSTAT receives comes from a room that houses a program called RACR (Realtime Analysis and Critical Response). It is the LAPD's newly built war room.

"They're open 24 hours a day; it's their job to push and pull and look at crime among all 21 police stations," Godown said.

Crimes as well as 911 calls are tracked minute by minute to see if a pattern is emerging. That information is passed along to the command staff and beat officers.

"It's as important to be armed with that information as it is to be armed with a weapon and all the other tools of the trade," Godown said

So simply put, COMPSTAT uses modern technology to reduce crime. But Gascon has said that the SFPD computer system is pretty archaic, so when its first installed here, much of the analysis will have to be done by hand until they can upgrade the system. But that is how the LAPD started when it was introduced seven years ago.

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