(Pittsburgh) June 8, 2017 Inadequate record keeping within the Allegheny County Police Department made it difficult for auditors to assess the Department’s performance, but a recent conversion to an electronic records system holds promise for more meaningful evaluation in the future, County Controller Chelsa Wagner said.
Crime and incident reports examined by auditors varied widely in format and content across the various County Police divisions, Wagner’s audit says, making it impossible to determine how many cases originated on County property, which involved County officers assisting other departments, and the extent of County officers’ work on each case.
“County taxpayers are paying almost $30 million annually for a police force that is trained, equipped and prepared to improve the safety of all of our communities, but that doesn’t have a clearly defined role in a fragmented, multi-layered system of law enforcement,” Wagner said.
Along with the County Police, Allegheny County is home to 130 municipal police departments, with 22 municipalities utilizing a regional or neighboring department, and two relying on state police coverage. The County reached an agreement last year with Wilmerding Borough to provide primary coverage in the Borough, a first for the County force.
“Public safety is a major expense for municipalities, and there is little doubt that many are unable to provide the level of coverage their officials and residents would prefer or keep pace with up-to-date technology. The County Police can be valuable in filling the gaps that exist, but can only be most effective for all County residents if its resources are deployed wisely,” Wagner said.
The audit determined that some resources devoted to assisting local departments on routine cases could be better utilized to enhance the ability of County Police to provide specialized services across the County. For instance, while a number of County officers are trained in managing incidents in which mental health conditions are an issue, and the department desires to provide this training to all its officers, budgetary constraints have limited the number of officers who have received such training.
“County Police can be of the greatest value when they can provide services beyond the baseline of what most municipal officers can provide. Training in mental health conditions is a prime example,” Wagner said. “Smaller departments are unlikely to have such specialized expertise, and it can be crucial in such situations when a trained County officer is able to assist. But resources are limited, and County Police cannot provide this value if they are being relied upon to provide routine services.”
“Determining how to best utilize the public’s resources requires reliable data on how officers are being deployed,” Wagner continued. “The electronic records system launched last year has great potential to be able to provide this data, but the County Police leadership must emphasize that what they can get out of the system is only as good as what officers put in.”
Wagner also cautioned that the immediate utility of the new records system could be limited by the fact that few other police agencies in the County currently use the same system.
“Data collected by my office showed that just a handful of local departments are using the same records system as the County Police. The ability to share information and deploy resources wisely can prevent duplication of efforts and make sure County Police are where they are most needed,” she said. “The County should be encouraging local departments to come on to the same or compatible systems so that our public safety agencies are on the same page and can respond quickly to patterns of crime.”
Wagner said that along with increasing its ability to evaluate its own performance, the County Police also must be able to illustrate its value to the community. The Department has not issued public annual reports on its activities, a transparency measure used by many other law enforcement agencies. Wagner said that the County Executive and County Council should require issuance of such a report.
She also said the audit shows that an emphasis must be placed on diversity in the Department’s recruiting efforts. Records showed that 92 percent of County officers were white males, and only 6 percent were female. Only four of the 206 officers were African-American.
“To be frank, in a County that is about 20 percent minority and growing, these numbers are egregious. Concerted efforts must be made to increase diversity through recruiting outside of traditional channels,” Wagner said.
The audit report noted that police departments around the country have instituted special programs aimed at increasing diversity, which typically involve greater police participation in community events, and recommended working with the Community College of Allegheny County to institute an educational program designed to increase test scores of prospective recruits.
The full Performance Audit Report can be viewed here.