Sunday, October 23, 2011

Policing the Police

The 2012 Dunwoody budget is out and some in the blogosphere are lamenting the removal of funds for a "Crime Prevention Unit" requested by our police department, on the basis that a quarter of a million dollars is a mere drop in the bucket. In spite of the fact that the request lacks sufficient details or measurable goals to be more that "because I want it", there is a move afoot to reinstate this in the budget.

So here we are in Dunwoody, beset by "parkies" demanding it all in one huge chunk, and those that already have a significant chunk nonetheless grabbing for more. A little here, a little there.

There is also a school of thought that subscribes to the notion that we can never spend enough money on police and any idea the chief comes up with simply must be good (see "because I want it"). Special units. Anti-terrorism training. Armored Personnel Carriers. Para-Military Forces (aka "SWAT" teams). The more the better.

But, is it possible that our existing resources are being deployed sub-optimally?

Did  we really need to take an officer out of service to send him to Israel, just because it was partly (wholly?) funded by Other People's Money? Really??!!?? What about the fact that this officer wasn't patrolling our streets or even an apartment complex? Then there was the chief's junket to "The Other Georgia". That really paid off in reducing criminal activity and our backlog of open investigations. NOT!

What we really could have used is trained officers who know to "cover the back door" when going to arrest someone. Instead, the alleged perp simply fled out the back, never to be seen again. And, did calling in neighboring SWAT teams to help the bungle-brothers improve that outcome? No, but didn't they just look stunning! Consider that when the Dunwoody PD starts murmuring about "needing a SWAT team" of its own. Do you really want these people running an armored paramilitary force using no-knock warrants and pointing automatic weapons at you?

Do we really need aggressive traffic patrolling of I-285 or would we be better off if these same patrols were in our "aging inventory of apartments" around the same times (dusk and dawn) as they're collecting fees and fines from "Snob County" commuters? The official answer is readily apparent to anyone on I-285 on almost any morning.

And "Police Segways"? Really?!? Is there no toy this child will be denied?

As a another example of questionable priorities, on Saturday October 15th, there were no fewer than four Dunwoody patrol cars on Dunwoody Parkway between Mount Vernon and Village Burger for some "event". Yet we're told the DPD hasn't the resources for traffic control near schools. Now if this looks like currying favor on the one hand while "convincing" parents to vote on budget expansion on the other, well, the facts are what they are.  If crime really is a problem, then stop with the "selective operations" and ramp up the patrols--stop being boy scouts and start being cops.

As for Data Driven operations and governance...



And publish that data. Not on some pre-filtered, sanitizing web site, but as raw, CSV data. Yes, we have hired "professionals" with "expertise" who have also crafted successful careers in politically steeped areas of government. They certainly know what they're doing and why. So let's not keep it a secret. We also have a city packed with "Smart people" and some of these folks are equally capable of analyzing data. Some are old farts, retired from successful careers in business and technology with both the time and the skills for this effort. They may also come to the task without the agenda of "make myself more important by making my budget bigger".

Has the city done even a minimally acceptable job of publishing data to this self-proclaimed "Smart City"? We, the taxpayers, paid for radar speed signs that collect traffic data. Well dammit, publish that data. The city spent the money on a web page to filter police data so these data obviously exist. Run a DB dump and publish the raw data and don't tell us "that's too expensive", or "you just need to fill out an Open Records Request at a cost of $$$". We're already paying for the data to be collected and for a PR website and quite frankly if you're doing a professional job, you're backing up the DB, so you have the raw data readily available. Publish it.

Since the data are clearly available, "all we want are the facts ma'am", and we'll take it from there. If we, the citizens, determine you are doing the best you can with the little you have (currently a very significant portion of the budget), and that you could do more, with more, then we can have an informed conversation about adding resources and what we expect as a result.

But as it stands, our budget is big enough to handle the necessities if the city were properly managed. Once operations are effective and efficient, it will be time to add or expand services but only as demanded by the citizens, not as they are put forth by our employees whose self-interest may not always align with the community.