Thursday, February 23, 2012/lk
This is the fifth in a six-part series that delves into a performance and management review study of the Sunnyside Police Department, commissioned at a cost of about $50,000.
The Sunnyside Police Department's investigations unit only worked 8 percent of the criminal cases that occurred in 2010.
In addition, the city does not track or monitor the progress of criminal cases that are worked.
That's according to chapter five of a Sunnyside Police Department review commissioned by the city council with Austin, Texas-based MGT of America.
Patrol officer T.J. Orth, for example, worked 1,021 cases in 2010, compared to 933 cases combined for the city's four-member detective staff.
In interviews with the police department, researchers were told the reason for so few cases worked by detectives is because of the number of murders in 2010, which totaled six.
Deputy Chief Phil Schenck told the review team that the investigations unit is essentially a "homicide unit." As a result, the department reported detectives had little time to investigate other crimes, much less property crimes.
At the same time, consultants conducting the survey - which included two members with more than 30 years of police experience each - found that "several of the homicide investigations are either solved or cold."
Major crime cases worked "in between" calls
It was also noted that most patrol officers are required to carry their own case loads.
That includes major crimes such as sexual assault, which consultants learned are worked by patrol officers "in between responding to calls" rather than turned over to detectives.
Further, researchers found the Sunnyside Police Department does not track cases or monitor their progress. "The responding patrol officer is automatically assigned a case and is then expected to self-monitor the case to its completion," the report stated.
As a result, the first of 15 recommendations made in chapter five suggests the police department use management software currently available to measure investigative workload and the need for additional resources.
Another recommendation suggested having the detective sergeant review and assign all cases as they arise.
Concerns over records, crime scene management
In chapter five, analysts also point out the PD's need to audit a backlog of records and cases.
Despite an automated records management system available to the police department, the report found there is still at least one Sunnyside police officer who writes reports by hand, which requires the data-entry clerk to enter the data into the system.
As a result, the clerk noted the majority of her time, until recently, has been "dedicated to attending a very large backlog of reports that require entry and/or review."
To help city police better manage its records, MGT's consultants recommended the city appoint someone to be in charge of records management.
The review says this and the audit noted earlier are important because "much of the information contained in records and cases provide time-sensitive information that can be used to reduce further criminal activity."
Another recommendation related to records management involves working with Spillman Technologies to minimize the need for duplicate entries in the National Incident Based Reporting System. The review said "many officers report that generating reports requires a significant portion of their time."
While reports are unavoidable, MGT's team says the need to double-enter information into the Spillman system and the national incident system creates a redundancy "that should be avoided."
MGT also expressed concern about the PD's handling of crime scene evidence. It revealed that "officers and detectives employ a minimal level of training."
The review continued, "Moreover, a dedicated CSI vehicle equipped with all the necessary supplies should be outfitted and available for call-out for major crime scene investigations."
PD commended for
hiring crime analyst
The Sunnyside Police Department was commended in the review for hiring a crime analyst last year.
"Data is a strong tool for fighting crime," the report said. "The recent addition of a crime analyst will help the department fight crime in a targeted way; therefore, ensuring the efficient use of its limited resources."
At the same time, MGT recommended the police department ensure the crime analyst has proper training and resources available "to ensure the position's continued success."
Improved management of gang unit needed
Another major initiative by the PD in 2011 was the development of a gang unit.
While acknowledging the unit's role in a gang-elimination strategy, consultants with MGT reported there is little documentation or formal planning as to how the gang unit should be structured.
The MGT team interviewed two officers who serve on the gang unit and both confirmed that weekly reports were submitted when the unit started last year. The report noted that weekly reports are no longer required and there are no formal weekly meetings to discuss progress, strategy and goals.
In calling for better management of the gang unit, MGT also recommended the PD establish performance measures "in an effort to provide specific guidance to the gang unit so as to allow for a measure of its overall effectiveness."
There was also a call to improve how Sunnyside police handle information in the gang database.
Currently the database, which contains information on adults and juveniles suspected to be gang members, is available to both civilians and sworn officers from multiple agencies.
"As is the case with many effective crime fighting tools, a gang database is rife with potential legal issues and is controlled by various state and federal laws," MGT cautions. "As such, the department also should ensure the necessary mechanisms are in place to protect civil rights and other privacy concerns."
Report calls for better partnership with schools
In a portion of chapter five addressing the PD's school resource officer position, the survey recommended the police department and the Sunnyside School District work closer together to address growing disciplinary issues.
The recommendation was the result of MGT's team interviews locally in which "school administrators and school resource officers implicated one another for the increased use of traditional law enforcement practices to address school disciplinary issues."
The report noted, then, that Sunnyside schools and the PD need to "work toward strengthening its partnership in the efforts against gangs."
Further, MGT's consultants found there has been little communication between the PD and the school district on how the gang initiative will impact the schools and vice versa.
To correct this issue, the research recommends scheduled debriefings between Sunnyside police and the school district, as well as having the SRO report directly to school administration.
Another suggestion was for the Sunnyside Police Department to fund continued participation in the Gang Resistance Education and Training program. MGT says that would allow SROs to "engage in more education-based programs rather than law enforcement."
PD and union
critiqued for struggling reserve program
Chapter five concludes with recommending the city step up in its commitment to the police reserve program.
MGT's research team noted that the number of reserve officers has been significantly reduced. Reserve officers reported the PD's "failure to undertake the work necessary to hire and train the new recruits."
To remedy the situation, the review recommends a community support sergeant work closely with current reserve officers "to ensure the successful re-staffing of its ranks."
Team-building exercises and other events are recommended to build camaraderie between reserve officers and full-time staff.
Another suggestion to rebuild the reserve ranks is to designate an office/computer for the reserve program. That's because reserve officers reported to MGT they are forced to wait until a computer becomes available to complete their paperwork.
MGT also took the PD to task for lacking minimum time requirements and supervision for reserves. The report noted reserves ride unsupervised by full-time commissioned officers.
MGT further dinged the police union for its desire to have full-time officers work overtime in place of the volunteer reserves.
Reserve issues a
The combined lack of supervision and experience for the PD's reserves could pose legal issues for Sunnyside, the report noted.
"There is currently no formal schedule for officers, nor is there anybody actively monitoring the amount of time each reserve officer works on a monthly basis," MGT said in its critique. "Not only does this provide for potential liability for those reserve officers that fail to maintain their skills and abilities as a law enforcement officer, but it often leads to confusion among the reserve officers."
Resolving this issue, the report noted, could be accomplished by implementing a formal schedule.
MGT's consultants added, "The schedule would help ensure a reserve officer works a minimum number of hours and the resource of the reserves is used in such a way as to decrease the department's overall need for overtime."