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Aiming High-Tech, Ivy Recruitment

by Julia Vitullo-Martin, Apr 01, 2002
 

The police department has become famous worldwide for its successful, computer-driven assault on crime, but when detectives file their investigative reports, they do so in triplicate, using carbon paper. In its daily work, as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly sums it up, his department has no internal email, no computer network, no access to sophisticated outside data bases. It is like a Porsche with the engine of a Volkswagen.

The whole system is inadequate, said Kelly, speaking at a lunch sponsored by the Manhattan Institute at the Yale Club. Those triplicate files that detectives create, DD5 forms, are sent to three separate offices--precinct, command, and borough--where they are stored in standard file cabinets to be retrieved manually when needed. Kelly paused for a moment to let it sink in that the data contained in those cabinets is essentially inaccessible.

The drive of analytic policing today, particularly in combating terrorists, is to connect the dotted lines, to pick up the relationships among seemingly disparate occurrences. Terrorist cells, noted Kelly, often finance crimes through petty crime, such as breaking into cars, identity theft, burglary. Since September 11 the details of certain petty crimes have developed an importance out of all proportion to the individual crime itself.

Kelly knows what technology can do for routine productivity because he had it in his last few jobs, including as head of the U.S. Customs Service. The New York Police Department needs a computer system, he argues, that allows "all case information to be entered in one data base for cross checking." Customs uses the Treasury Department's Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS), which links all the Treasury enforcement bureaus with one another, including Customs, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. TECS may still be 1980s technology, says Kelly, but it is leagues ahead of the New York Police Department. Customs is now exploring an Internet-driven investigative database that would permit the storage of surveillance footage, wiretaps, and interviews together in a digital file.

The other half of the technology problem is, as always, personnel: "We need our senior people to have the basic tools and technologies needed to lead any organization today."

There's no easy fix for this, but one route is more sophisticated recruitment.

RECRUITING AT THE IVIES

Interest in police work is at an all-time high, and the NYPD is at the top of the food chain. Mayor Bloomberg's 2003 budget calls for a reduction of 1600 police officers, though Kelly seems to regard that as something of a phantom number. He says that 40,110 officers is the "preferred head count," and that the NYPD is now down to 38,000 through attrition. Its target is to have 39,000 officers on July 1 of this year.

The department is trying to make it easy to apply. The application form is online and it's free. Kelly thinks New York is the only major metropolitan police force in the nation to do this.

They are also sending recruiters to schools that have never seen NYPD recruiters before, such as Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. According to the New York Times, the effort was not very successful ("Police Recruiters Draw Little Interest, Good or Bad") at Columbia. Himself a graduate of the JFK School of Government at Harvard, Commissioner Kelly says the recruitment campaign is as much symbolic as substantive. Which is a judicious position to take since, as the Times points out, the NYPD's starting salary of $31,305 is less than the annual cost of attending Columbia. Rather like trying to buy a Porsche at a Volkswagen price.

Julia Vitullo-Martin, a long-time editor and writer on urban affairs, is the former director of the Citizens Jury Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. She is now writing a book entitled The Conscience of the American Jury.


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