Police in Minneapolis have overhauled the way they keep tabs on criminal activity, joining other big city departments in setting up systems to track new types of computer-assisted crimes such as identity theft and credit card fraud.
Minneapolis officials last week rolled out the new electronic records management system to replace the 28-year-old Computer Assisted Police Records System (CAPRS).
The new program, called PIMS (Police Information Management System), offers more flexibility than its predecessor, officials say. It will also help the MPD strengthen its data analysis and increase accountability, according to Lt. Greg Reinhardt, the department’s technology specialist.
“It’s a little exciting and a little scary for the Police Department,” Reinhardt said. “On the first day, we’re just trying to remember our passwords.”
Nearly every time they are dispatched to an emergency call or respond on their own, officers must file an incident report. These crime statistics are reported to state and federal authorities.
Under the new system, officers can digitally attach photos or scanned documents to their reports, for easier access. “No longer do we have to put it on a shelf in the property room and keep it for years and years,” Reinhardt said.
It also offers greater flexibility in assigning cases, particularly in more complex investigations involving detectives from separate units, he said.
Before, supervisors spent several hours a week doling out cases, trying to figure out which detective could work what, taking into account work schedules and caseloads. “If need be, we can assign a dozen [investigators to a case] and keep track of their entries to make it more organized,” Reinhardt said.
Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder praised the upgrade. “The search functionality is so much greater than CAPRS was,” he said. “We will be able to provide more detailed reports in quicker time frame.”
Data analysis will also get easier, Reinhardt said.
“With the right data and the right people looking at it, we can provide some advantages to police services,” Reinhardt said. The system, designed by a Canadian company named Versaterm, costs $9.8 million over 12.5 years.
A recent report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) found that many departments across the country lack the “systems for gathering data” about new types of crimes.
“As the Compstat era in policing has demonstrated, statistical information is a key factor that drives policies, resources, and operations,” read the report, published earlier this year. “But because the existing systems for measuring crime were created decades ago and have not kept pace with new developments, they only scratch the surface in measuring new crimes.”
In Minneapolis, PIMS has caused hand-wringing among some in the department members, who grumble that it’s complicated and time-consuming. But department officials dismissed those complaints as the growing pains of learning a new system.
“It’ll take probably a couple weeks for everybody to get the hang of it,” Reinhardt said.
The change comes amid a growing debate nationally over how crime is measured. Traditional metrics have failed to capture the explosion of cybercrime, from ransomware and credit card fraud to identity theft and scamming of various sorts, the PERF report concluded.
Police departments, Minneapolis included, are being urged to report their crime figures to the agency’s more comprehensive National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) program, which recently began separately tracking computer-assisted crimes like “hacking computer invasion” and “identity theft.”
Previously, Minneapolis reported its data using parameters set by the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) program, which counts only the most serious offense in any incident. If, for instance, an assault occurred during a robbery, only the robbery would be recorded under UCR. NIBRS would capture both crimes.
Reinhardt also sees the new system as an accountability tool, helping supervisors identify troubled officers and getting them help.
Department officials had long sought a replacement for CAPRS, which debuted in 1990 “to take the place of filing cabinets,” Reinhardt said.
But as the department’s use of analytics has increased and evolved, the system’s shortcomings became all the more apparent, Reinhardt said.
“When CAPRS started it was very basic, it was basically a program that copied a police report — it was never intended as an analytical tool,” he said.