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Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2001

It’s a crime

September 16, 2001

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Six years is long enough to blame the computers for not being able to supply solid crime statistics for Lawrence.

It's difficult, in a way, to acknowledge, but life goes on.

Thoughts of this week's terrorist attacks on U.S. targets are ever with us, but other issues, though they seem mundane by comparison, still deserve attention.

One of those is the situation of crime reporting in the Lawrence Police Department.

During a meeting with neighborhood representatives this week, Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin offered a number of reasons or excuses why his department couldn't provide the sort of detailed record of crimes that many Lawrence residents want. But his explanations were less than satisfying.

Police used to be able to determine how many crimes occurred on a specific block, but they lost that capability after they purchased a new computer system in 1995. The department is developing new software, the chief said, but implementation is still another six months away.

And even then, the police computers won't mesh with new software being purchased by the Neighborhood Resources Department to record non-criminal complaints of code violations. The police dispatching software also is incompatible with the software used to maintain final police reports.

When in doubt, blame the computers.

The police department's timely and comprehensive delivery of reports to media has suffered in recent years. It has been unable to supply official crime reports to the state for two years. In May 2001, a Kansas Bureau of Investigation official told the Journal-World that the Lawrence Police Department hadn't learned to use software being used by dozens of other agencies in the state. Both local and state officials agreed at that time that the system should be operational by July. It's now September.

Now police are telling neighborhood representatives that the police department is unable to supply information they consider important to keeping their neighborhoods safe and livable.

But it's the computers' fault.

Six years should be long enough to work out the kinks in a computer system. If the system has proven to be inadequate, a new system should be installed. If a new system is required, the purchase should be made by someone who knows enough about computers to know whether the new model will do the job the community needs and provide the needed interface with other city computer systems.

This issue needs to take some priority for city commissioners. The public deserves the information it is seeking about criminal and disturbance reports received by Lawrence police. City officials also should be interested in those statistics. It simply isn't acceptable to allow this haphazard record-keeping system to persist.

Too many people have been given the runaround by police and city officials on the matter of crime reporting. The handling of this issue a disgrace and suggests either poor planning, a lack of knowledge concerning the computer world or that police and city officials give a low priority to having information systems that are flexible and efficient. The people of Lawrence are being shortchanged and possibly exposed to greater chances of crime.

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