The Minneapolis Police Department’s records office is weeks behind in processing public-records requests, creating a backlog that is being blamed on staffing shortages and the growing pains of implementing a new computer system.
Nearly two months after the launch, department officials maintain that the new system is working as designed. But problems with querying the Police Information Management System (PIMS) are testing their ability to respond to even the most basic inquiries in a timely manner. This has led to delays in processing requests, ranging from one to three weeks.
As a result, some records clerks have begun signing off their e-mails with a message acknowledging the new system and its delays.
PIMS was rolled out in mid-June as replacement for the 28-year-old Computer Assisted Police Records System (CAPRS), an in-house program that officials said had outlived its usefulness.
But where CAPRS faltered in handling the expanding volume of data requests — the office received more than 200,000 last year, roughly a 206 percent increase from 2013 — its replacement has created delays of its own.
Ruth Carey, an assistant records supervisor, said that PIMS is designed to help her office better process the roughly 400 records requests it takes in a day, ranging in size from an accident report to “a complex request like you would get on [the 2015 fatal police shooting of] Jamar Clark or any major event.”
Carey said the 14-person office is seeing more requests for body camera footage, even as it has taken on more duties, such as a “quality assurance step” for all police reports, which has added to their workload.
“The efficiency has suffered only because, I don’t want to say it’s a new language, but it’s a new landscape,” she said.
PIMS was designed to synchronize data in a way that would have been impossible in CAPRS, said records supervisor Mary Zenzen. Once fully operational, the system will allow the department to process more information more rapidly. This, Zenzen said, will not only make it easier for investigators to connect the dots in complex cases, but down the road will also speed up the time it takes to retrieve public data.
There has also been a learning curve for officers on the street, who are required to input more information about arrests and other enforcement actions.
In one recent case, a detective wrote he was preparing to charge a woman after her arrest on suspicion of stabbing her ex-boyfriend. But because the department was “transitioning to a new case management system,” he wrote, the woman was released after 48 hours without being charged. She was charged by warrant two months later, according to court filings.
Cmdr. Travis Glampe said the system, which costs $9.8 million over 12 years, soon will be running smoothly. In the meantime, he said the records office is dealing with the growing pains that come with switching to new software.
“I would challenge anybody to implement a system like this and not have that learning curve,” said Glampe, who runs the Technology and Support Services Division.
While officers are complaining about the extra paperwork they are required to fill out, Glampe said: “This is a lot to overcome, but it’s a necessary part of the job that’s going to make us a lot better, both on the street taking that report and prosecuting the case.”
He said the department is looking for ways to help reduce the backlog. He said he hopes the workload will be lightened after the unit fills two open positions.
A surge in body camera use by officers, in the wake of a policy shift, has been felt in the records unit at City Hall.
Even smaller requests can be time-consuming. An incident lasting 10 minutes and involving six officers, for example, would require someone to review an hour’s worth of footage and then figure out if any of it needed to be redacted in compliance with the state’s privacy law. More complicated inquiries from attorneys, insurance companies and the media can take months to process, requiring input from both the Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office.
And while large departments around the country can have dozens of staff members to review and redact footage, Minneapolis has only two.
Several recent departures have left the unit even more short-staffed, sources say.
The city and police should be more focused on getting videos and other police data to the public, said Council Member Linea Palmisano, adding that she has approached Police Chief Medaria Arradondo about folding the records unit into the City Clerk’s Office, which handles non-police information requests and has itself come under pressure to deliver data more quickly.
“We could do better in both making data regularly available for you — like on a police dashboard, which they’re currently working on or in a records request — they need to be more responsive to them,” Palmisano said. “How we compare with other cities, in our use of data, is pretty atrocious.”
Palmisano, who chairs the Enterprise Committee, said that staff are expected present a “State of Data” report at the committee’s meeting next week outlining how to improve transparency at City Hall and what the Clerk’s Office has done since a 2015 audit, which showed the city lagged behind national standards and needed to hire more people to keep up with the increased demand for body camera footage.
The systems upgrade was a test of the city’s commitment to open government, said Rich Neumeister, a longtime public records advocate.
“If this is a new system, where government money was spent, what were the objectives?” said Neumeister.
“Was it built with the public in mind to make it easier for the public to get access for public data?”