Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Officers May Soon Be Able to Answer ‘I Don’t Know’ on Forms About Stops
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A computer program designed to help Los Angeles police officers correct errors and omissions on the scantron forms they are required to fill out every time they make a pedestrian or motorist stop may soon include a box for “I don’t remember,” under a potential plan from department officials.
Capt. Brad Merritt, commanding officer of the LAPD’s Management Service Division, told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee yesterday the majority of the errors come from officers neglecting to fill the form out completely—and now that those forms are being processed electronically, incomplete forms that were filled out months ago have to be completed.
“We don’t want to put our officers in a position of falsifying official documents or having to guess.” Merritt said.
As of Nov. 1, officers must answer about a dozen questions about every pedestrian and motorist they stop, including: Of what “apparent descent” is the person (white, black, Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, American Indian or other)? Was the person frisked? Why was the person stopped?
The forms, required under the terms of a federal consent decree, are part of a new data-collection effort to track racial profiling. While taking the data in is required, the consent decree is not clear on how the data is to be interpreted or used.
Since the data collection began, more than 300,000 forms have been completed by the department’s officers and those forms are now being scanned electronically so the information can be processed. LAPD officers fill out nearly 2,000 forms a day.
But if the form is incomplete, was filled out incorrectly, or has errant marks, an electronic copy, with the problem areas highlighted in yellow, is now being “kicked back” to the officer to make corrections.
Most of the errors are bubbles which were not completed by the officer, Merritt said. But with the department’s STOP program, officers have opportunity to go back and fill in the missing information in a matter of seconds, he said.
But sometimes the officer just can’t remember that particular stop or whether a search was conducted, Merritt told the committee.
Officers will not be allowed to get lazy and check the “I don’t remember” box with reckless abandon, Merritt said.
Officers will be asked to look at citations written during the incident, review their daily log for that day, and even talk to their partners in hopes of jogging their memory. A officer would most likely be allowed to resort to that box only after he or she has convinced a supervisor that all other options have been exhausted and the supervisor then inputs a password.
Supervisors would also be allowed to regularly audit their officers by reviewing the number of error returns each officer receives, Merritt said.
The department has also considered leaving error-ridden forms in the system for a specified period of time before purging them, but Merritt said that idea did not account for vacation or sick time. Another alternative was to see if partially completed forms could be used, Cmdr. Dan Koenig said.
“We want something more proactive,” Merritt said.
The department is currently awaiting an RFP for electronic handheld devices to replace the scantrons, something Merritt said will correct a lot of the human errors made with the paper forms.
“Until you fill our the field completely, you will not be able to go to the next field,” Merritt said.
An RFP is expected to be issued for the electronic devices within two to three weeks, Koenig said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company