It is extremely worrying that in a Ombudman's report which forced the resignation of Victoria Police commissioner, Simon Overland, one of the most regularly mentioned items is the technology system used to collect and store crime data.
The report by Victorian Ombudsman, George Brouwer, found that Overland reported inaccurate crime statistics (a huge drop in the number of CBD assaults), and - worse - he did this three days before the state election.
The “bodgie” statistics drama brought to an end the controversial, short stint at the top for Overland.
The fallout has been well-documented but what deserves further scrutiny is the fact that in the 41-page report the law enforcement assistance program (LEAP) database is mentioned 32 times.
This is highly irregular for an ombudsman’s report on the police force and political events.
An underlying theme of Brouwer’s report is that Overland’s actions were a symptom of a problem that has existed for decades, enabled by a dysfunctional technology system, LEAP.
Brouwer first brought the problem to light in 2009, in a previous investigation into the VicPolice statistic reporting systems.
“The antiquated, time-consuming administrative practices for recording crime that have to be followed by frontline police associated with outdated information technologies, were clearly unsuited to modern policing”.
“I considered that Victoria Police continued to miss opportunities to modernise its practices for the recording and processing of crime data,” Brouwer wrote.
[It’s well worth taking time to read the deep explanation of the failures of the LEAP system]
The implications of this failed stats reporting mechanism is significant.
Just this week it was reported that a pay dispute had effectively hobbled the statistics reporting capability of the Victoria Police, because the police union ordered its members to stop completing running sheets, logbooks, and activity statements.
The Victoria Police can’t determine overall crime rates on its database, according to police association secretary, Greg Davies, who said officers were told not to centrally submit crime reports.
This has been the case since June 7 and the police union warned it could continue until the state election in 2014.
It is worrying the Victoria Police can effectively be held to ransom by a technology system.
Following the 2009 report, the office for police integrity agreed that technology was to blame for the Victoria Police’s failure to produce accurate crime statistics.
“This is due primarily to inherent flaws in the design of LEAP and the outmoded and flawed systems for entering data onto it.”
The Ombudsman recommended the police needed to quickly replace the failed LEAP system (dubbed project LINK), the then-commissioner agreed but conceded this would be difficult to achieve because of functionality and cost.
Ultimately, Overland paid the ultimate price for this inaction on technology.
Brouwer noted in his report that two years after the original report, very little has changed. (He has vowed to pursue this and other failed technology projects in Victoria.)
The first priority of the incoming commissioner should be to fix this broken system. Otherwise they might find themselves befalling a fate worse than their predecessor.