Indy officials to tout police openness during Washington, D.C. trip

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 7, 2015)-- Public Safety Director Troy Riggs and his associates will participate in White House talks Wednesday regarding Indianapolis' progress in opening up its police complaint process and making crime data available to the public.

Even though the city's new partner in police communications has never handled a system as large or complex as Marion County's.

Riggs said Washington officials are interested in Indianapolis' advancements in two areas.

"One, the open data that we have provided to the public, and we have asked for assistance with the systemic issues that lead to crime, and the other thing that they've noticed is the complete revamping of the complaint process on police officers.

"What they liked was the willingness of us to use data and share it with the public quickly and to ask for the public's assistance."

Riggs' trip comes at a time when the city is hoping to accelerate the revamping of its 911 dispatch and emergency communications system.

The enhanced system, launched in 2013, is behind schedule after the original contractor, InterAct, ran into financial trouble and was bought out by Harris Computers last month.

Riggs renegotiated the city's $12 million contract with Harris and was assured the new company can meet a late 2015 deadline to make good on InterAct's original committment.

"They say they can fulfill the product," said Riggs. "They look like they have that technology but we have a firm date now in the future and we have not given up any of our rights to litigation."

But Al Stovall, Deputy Chief in the Department of Public Safety, told the Public Safety Communications Advisory Board that Harris Computers, like InterAct, has never tackled a project as big as the Indianapolis system, especially when it comes to Computer Aided Dispatch, CAD, which plays a key part in the three million communications 911 dispatchers send and receive every year.

"They’re not a Tier One CAD player," said Stovall. "They’re big in school systems in Los Angeles County schools, for example, so we did look at some of the other larger scale deployments that they’ve done in the public safety space. There was nothing comparable to Indianapolis to speak of."

Indianapolis' dispatch load is one of the heaviest in the country and the integrated system will be among the most complex anywhere.

Stovall told the Board Harris thinks it can handle the development of and transition to the larger system which would be state-of-the-art nationally.

"The reason they bought it they felt like they could fix the problems and turn the company around," he said. "They felt like the product, their development, is going in the direction of future CADs. They think they’re spot on in terms of what the needs are going to be for law enforcement public safety agencies in the future and that was the most attractive piece of the company for them."

Riggs said that when InterAct exited the industry due to the Harris buyout, Indianapolis had already spent $8.7 million on a partially constructed system.

"I will tell you what we're optimistic about, however, is that as we have had some very frank conversations with Harris and their leadership," said Riggs, "that they have gone out and gotten experts in certain fields, people who have a proven track record with other vendors and other business entities, and they're bringing them on board to help with this and they have some individuals in house that seem to be exceptional."

Riggs pointed to the Safetown.org feature that allows residents to track crime in their neighborhoods in real-time as an enhancement of the current system.

"What we asked for when I arrived that was not in the contract was the ability to share data with the public through Safetown," said Riggs who inherited the InterAct contract in 2012, "to see what type of crimes are occurring in your neighborhood, to see when officers or fire or EMS are on dispatch runs, so you can get on your computer and see where they are. It's part of the open data that we support."

The new CAD system was supposed to come online last summer.

Stovall said Harris may finish its work by late September.

Such a deadline can't come soon enough for the man who launched Spotcrime.com, a real-time crime tracking system.

"A more informed public, it's argued, is you have a safer public," said Colin Drane, "and also there is an accountability factor. A more transparent police agency is more likely going to be a more accountable better performing agency."

Drane said for several years, under its old system, Indianapolis ranked among the top American cities for openness of and access to crime reporting data.

"Indianapolis had a very robust...one of the most transparent crime data feeds in the country at the time because in 2008 we were still relatively new," said Drane, "so we were mapping since then until they turned off their 911 feed, I think it was last year."

Riggs told Fox 59 News that until his arrival the city intended to restrict public access to crime reporting information.

"Being an advocate for transparency, I don't think there is ever any legitimate explanation to reduce access to public data," said Drane. "The 911 feed, we got an explanation that it was supported by the Department of Homeland Security and they no longer wanted to support that feed and it was turned off and there was also an upgrade to a new system.

"We reached out to city government, the police chief, everybody, to explain what had happened and why, and why openness is important, but our last correspondence went unanswered. We couldn't get a response from anybody."

During the time of Sportcrime's inquiries Indianapolis found itself stuck with a contractor that promised too much and delivered too little of a proposed system that was more complex than any in the country.

As a result, Drane said on a sale from 0-3 for openness and transparency, Indianapolis fell to the bottom.

"Zero being the lowest, it's close to zero right now," said Drane, "particularly from the vantage point it was one of the most transparent cities.

"Crime data should be treated like a public utility, like water, so this crime data feed has been off for over a year now. If our water feed was off for over a year it would be unheard of."