Police Departments Need Automation
Prof. John Markoff, Shanna McCord
Undaunted by the perils of the dot-com bust and oblivious to the possibility of failing, Scott Reese is ready for his own gamble into the Silicon Valley world of technological inventions. Using the same winning attitude that led him toward good grades and a starting position on the San Jose State University football team in the early 1990’s, this 31-year-old is taking the paperwork out of police report writing.
When Reese graduated from San Jose State in 1993, he dreamed of either becoming a professional football player or taking his gridiron strength onto the streets as a police officer. Nine years later, he’s been a motorcycle officer for the city of Monterey Police Department and now, splits his time between being a patrol officer and firefighter for the city of Sunnyvale. While he thrives on chasing down lawbreakers, one part of the job makes Reese dread going to work. He hates the paperwork required after every arrest, traffic stop or warning. According to Reese, the entire system needs to change.
"All along from the beginning, I’ve thought police report writing was a miserable experience," Reese said.
Consider the time it takes to complete the most simple of incident reports. A drunk driving arrest requires more than 10 forms. "There are your department forms, county forms and state forms," Reese said. "There are also the incident reports, suspect reports, confidentiality reports and the list goes on and on and on."
Reese says it can take two hours to finish all of the written requirements for one arrest. If three arrests are made during one 10-hour shift, a good portion of the officer’s time will be dedicated to filling out forms and filing reports. While this can often lead to overtime and extra pay, Reese says it’s a waste.
To make the situation more frustrating, up to 90 percent of the information on the various forms is redundant. "It’s all the same: dates, date of birth, weight, height and addresses," he said.
Reese estimates that at least 30 percent of his time at work is spent inside, sitting at a desk, putting pen to paper. Most officers agree this is one of the most burdensome areas of their job. There has to be a better way, Reese thought.
It doesn’t take the likes of Bill Gates to realize police departments lag behind the times. Even big league police departments, like the city of San Jose’s with 1,400 officers, still write the majority of its reports by hand. There’s little question, police forces everywhere need to automate.
Reese is one of many trying to solve the problems associated with wasted manpower and taxpayer money by automating the process. To get his idea off the ground, Reese recruited his brother and a couple of business contacts to create a software program they hope will cut report writing time in half and integrate records management systems.
Reese calls his company Copperfire; copper because he’s a cop and fire, because he also works as a firefighter for the city of Sunnyvale.
Copperfire was launched last summer after Reese met 21-year-old Drew Spencer, a third year computer science major at Stanford University who’s already earned senior status. An exceptional, young computer programmer, Spencer proved his technology aptitude five years ago, when he was a sophomore in high school, by taking fourth place in the Think Quest International competition, an elite Internet education program for teens.
Reese’s younger brother, Nathan, who runs the information technology department at a tech company in Los Angeles, introduced Reese and Spencer. Spencer had spent a summer working as Nathan’s intern.
"One of my first impressions when he (Reese) brought up the idea was surprise that they didn’t already have it," Spencer said. "The technology has been there, they just needed somebody to write the software."
Together, Reese and Spencer have built an interface, which operates on a laptop computer easily placed inside an officer’s patrol car. When an officer goes to fill out a report, Copperfire provides a list of all the forms possible and the officer then clicks on the forms needed for that particular incident. When redundant information, like the date, is filled in, it’s automatically duplicated to all of the other date slots on the other designated forms. Spencer designed the program to tell the information where to go instantly and automatically.
Another unique characteristic of Copperfire is that the forms are matched exactly to those of the particular agency. "This is not a one size fits all program," Reese said.
Copperfire caters to the various forms and their designs, which often vary from department to department. Reese says it’s important for cops to have a program that duplicates exactly what they’re used to seeing and using.
"I developed a program to trace the forms," Spencer said. "This allows us to store the geometric data and scale it." That gives him the ability to modify Copperfire for individual departments.
The duplication process is time consuming for Spencer because it takes three to five hours to recreate one form. Some police departments have up to 40 to 50 different forms.
Because Reese still works full-time as an officer in Sunnyvale and Spencer is a full-time student, Copperfire must be squeezed in between their other obligations. "It’s every moment I’m not dealing with the Sunnyvale PD," Reese said.
Despite this, Reese and Spencer have managed to give Copperfire a test run with the Redding Police Department. Last September, five Redding officers were given laptop computers installed with Copperfire’s software and asked to temporarily stop writing their reports by hand. The officers then told Reese and Spencer what they liked and what they didn’t.
"As far as report writing, it’s close to standing alone," Lt. Ken Kramerman, a 26-year veteran with the Redding police department said.
But it’s not only report writing Reese must consider as he develops Copperfire. An important component for every police department is data entry and records keeping.
"There are all kinds of places we have to send reports to," said Kramerman. "We need to be able to upload the information directly."
Reese isn’t alone in his quest to streamline the work of police officers. There are dozens of companies developing software to automate report writing. Rob Davis, deputy chief of police for the city of San Jose, said, "I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve sat through where guys have showed me a new way of writing reports electronically."
A successful program will have to go beyond only writing and printing reports. According to Davis, keeping track of the files and statistics in an electronic database called a records management system, is equally important.
"We need a system that is integrated and allows us to track statistics," Davis said. "We need statistics like: how many white guys with a tattoo on their right arm have been arrested? That’s when the system becomes an investigative tool."
The San Jose police department has been slow to catch up with technology because Davis says it’s spending a lot of time and money to find the "perfect" program.
According to Davis, the city of San Jose will spend millions of dollars and thousands of human resource hours to move its entire report writing and records management system into automation.
Reese is looking forward to the day Copperfire begins making money. He says there are a couple of contracts pending that could be completed by the end of summer. The deals are said to be worth a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Copperfire has reached this point without one dollar from venture capitalists, only now has Reese started looking. Instead he’s drained his personal savings and the limits on his credit cards.
"I have about $100,000 of my own money in this," he said. "I’ve gone into debt for this with credit cards and personal loans." Reese’s costs have included paying Spencer about $20,000 so far, as well as labor, product development, marketing, travel, copyright, trademark and attorney fees.
Reese is driven to make Copperfire a success among the Silicon Valley’s tech companies and eventually introduce the same automation concept to medical reports and records. He’s aiming for Copperfire to become his full-time job by the end of the year.
"We’re not going anywhere," Reese said. "We know what needs to be done and we’re going to do it."
The Redding police department is keeping its faith in Reese. "We’re hopeful he can do what he says he can do," Kramerman said. "It’s still too early to tell for sure but we’re optimistic."
As far as the future of Copperfire, "it’s either ours or someone else’s," Spencer said. "It needs to be there."
This is a risk fewer entrepreneurs are willing to take these days, especially because 70 percent of business startups in the Silicon Valley fail within their first five years.
"This is a place with highly motivated people who want to make a difference in the world," Reese said. "When something doesn’t make sense, you either wait for somebody to do something or you do it yourself.
For more information on Copperfire Software Solutions, visit www.copperfire.com.