Kicking the Pigeon #14: CLEAR

Having established that the City has long been aware of the inadequacies of its monitoring and disciplinary system, the critical question is whether it has acted in a timely manner to implement recommendations for reforming that system.

A budget, Hannah Rosenthal of the Chicago Foundation for Women recently remarked, is a moral compass. It orients an institution, expresses its direction, and documents its values. It reflects institutional priorities—what is important to the institution and what is not. Budget numbers may also testify to areas of neglect or reveal de facto policies of underfunding certain activities in order to limit their effectiveness.

Over the last decade, the City has invested heavily in a sustained effort to make optimal use of information technology for the purpose of crime-fighting. This effort has yielded a comprehensive strategy that includes among its elements an expanding network of surveillance cameras across the city and information-driven deployment of police personnel. The centerpiece of this strategy is a criminal justice information system known as CLEAR—Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting.

The nerve center for the various applications that constitute CLEAR is a state-of-the-art “data warehouse.” An ever expanding network of databases, it provides access to a vast repository of information drawn from multiple sources. It enables police personnel to search for relevant information organized according to a wide range of variables. And it guides deployment decisions by providing real-time data to help identify “hot spots.”

CLEAR is the product of a partnership between the CPD and the Oracle Corporation. After some false starts in upgrading its technology in the 1990s, the CPD entered into an agreement in 2001, under which Oracle agreed to invest $20 million in developing CLEAR in exchange for the right to sell it to other law enforcement agencies. Other funding has come from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.

The essence of CLEAR is criminal justice data integration. As more agencies participate and more data sources are added, it continually expands its reach and effectiveness. The momentum of its growth has been impressive. In January of 2004, Mayor Daley and Governor Blagojevich announced that CLEAR would develop into a statewide criminal justice database and would embrace all criminal justice agencies in the state. In view of this expanded mission, it was renamed I-CLEAR.

The last great innovation in data-driven policing—the ComStat system developed by the New York Police Department—funnels information up the chain of command where is it processed and then disseminated. CLEAR, by contrast, is designed to provide the officer on the street, as well as the supervisors and crime analysts at headquarters, with immediate access to its ever expanding universe of data. In the fall of 2004, Mayor Daley and Superintendent Cline announced that the City would be outfitting some 1,200 squad cars with laptops that would give officers on the street wireless access to I-CLEAR. “We’ve always said that the technological advances we’ve made in this department over the years are useless if officers in the field can’t access the information quickly,” said Cline.

The CPD credits I-CLEAR with reducing crime and increasing productivity. Others credit the CPD with building the future of law enforcement. In 2004, the CPD received the Grand CIO Enterprise Value Award from CIO Magazine in a competition that included Dell, Procter & Gamble, and Pfizer. One of the judges, the chief information officer of Raytheon, said, “Enterprise value in its highest form is the opportunity for IT to transform a business, to bring a whole new world into existence. The Chicago Police Department totally changed the game.”

Superintendent Cline and his colleagues have demonstrated they fully understand the power of information technology to detect patterns of criminality. The question is: have they applied these tools with the same sense of urgency and clarity of purpose to preventing human rights abuses by the police against citizens?

During the period CLEAR has been evolving, the policies and practices of OPS have regularly been questioned. In response to public criticism, OPS staff members have repeatedly cited the lack of requisite technology as the reason they cannot harvest more information from their files.

A 1998 Human Rights Watch report titled Shielded From Justice notes that OPS does not provide public reports containing “information regarding the subject officer or complainant, such as race, age, or gender, or the district where the incident took place or where the officer involved is assigned.” OPS staff explained “that funding has not been available for computerization of its work, and that everything is done by hand, making a comprehensive public report unfeasible.”

In September, 1999, the Chicago Reporter stated that “OPS does not keep computerized records of complaints.” It quoted Callie Baird, then the office’s chief administrator:

. . . because her office is not “automated,” she is unable to analyze demographic trends in complaints, investigations and discipline. “People think that we have this [information] and we don’t want to give it out,” she said. “But we don’t have it compiled according to the way people are requesting it.”

In an investigative report on OPS broadcast on May 12, 2004, Pam Zekman of CBS 2 Chicago reported that Lori Lightfoot, then chief administrator of OPS, said “her office is in the process of implementing new technology that would allow better tracking of officers.” As Bond v. Utreras unfolds, we will no doubt learn more about this process. I only know that in the fall of 2004—at a time when the City was outfitting squad cars with state-of-the-art laptops with wireless access to its immense database—a visitor to the offices of OPS reported that investigators appeared to be working on antique 386 and 486 computers.

The “new technology” to which Lightfoot referred is presumably the personnel component of CLEAR. According to academic researchers who have evaluated CLEAR under a grant from the Department of Justice, this module will eventually include a yet-to-be-developed “Personnel Performance System” which “will be a repository for all data related to officer behavior and performance”:

It will assist management in the interpretation of information provided by the various modules comprising the Personnel Suite, thus allowing for the early identification of officers whose performance indicates potential problems as a result of recurrent citizen complaints, pursuits and traffic accidents, firearm-discharge incidents and the like. Officers so identified are provided with intervention (counseling or training) designed to improve the problematic behavior. While this is currently done on a manual basis, the Personnel Suite will widen the scope of the data employed and systematize the problem-identification process. Development of the CPD’s performance monitoring system is not the result of a consent decree; however, U. S. Department of Justice recommendations for jurisdictions so mandated will anchor Chicago’s program.

If these words were given concrete meaning, the City would indeed have an effective monitoring system. They are, however, only words. Eight years after the Mayor’s Commission on Police Integrity recommended the CPD institute a “fully computerized,” “sophisticated and thorough” early warning system, the “Personnel Performance System,” according to the evaluators, “remains in the conceptual stage.”

The City will no doubt argue that it has acted on the recommendation in exemplary fashion by developing a state-of-the-art information technology strategy. It will say that the monitoring function has been an integral part of CLEAR from the start, that CLEAR is being rolled out in a systematic way, and that the monitoring component is contingent on other parts of the system being built first. It will say that these things take time.

Such an argument begs fundamental questions. Should systemic patterns of human rights abuse by the police be allowed to continue unchecked for years or even decades, while the CPD develops the ideal system for addressing them? Is the promise of such a system at some point in the receding future an adequate response, when the City’s failure to use existing resources to address these patterns now exposes citizens to harms that could be avoided? Does the fact that CLEAR’s early warning system remains “in the conceptual stage” reflect a rational sequencing of tasks or profoundly skewed priorities?

To be continued…