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Detroit's Tech Plan Could End Dark Ages for PD

The Detroit city government that emergency manager Kevyn Orr envisions over the next decade will be a far more advanced operation, no longer limping along with outdated computers and obsolete technology that undercuts everything from accurate tax collection to real-time analysis of crime trends.

With some tax information still kept on 3-by-5 index cards and police officers still handwriting reports on paper, it won't be cheap to bring the city into today's high-tech world.

The City of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 protection in July, citing debts and long-term obligations of about $18 billion. On Friday, Orr filed a plan of adjustment in bankruptcy court outlining major improvements to city services and how the city plans to chip away at billions of dollars in debt.

Under the city's proposal to emerge from bankruptcy, Detroit would spend nearly $150 million during the next 10 years to make up for decades of a lack of investment in technology.

City restructuring consultant Charles Moore, who took a deep look at the city's information technology troubles, said Detroit's not alone among big cities that neglected technology investments.

"But you'd be hard-pressed to find another municipality of Detroit's size that operates with these sorts of archaic processes and systems," said Moore, a turnaround specialist with the Conway MacKenzie firm in Birmingham.

The city's restructuring plan calls for information technology investments large and small, from digitizing filings at Detroit's 36th District Court and making it a paperless process to using a new electronic case management system for the city's Law Department.

But such investments will be most crucial in perhaps two areas.

Upgrades for Police

At the Detroit Police Department, the city would spend $38 million on tech improvements, including what it calls a "fully integrated public safety IT system" that would wrap in the city's Fire Department and EMS.

Moore said this is crucial for police officers, who spend far too much time manually completing paperwork that should be automated. With more up-to-date equipment, the data from those electronic reports can be used in real-time crime-tracking systems that can be shared among precincts for more accurate, timely responses.

"If you think about the amount of time a police officer has to manually put in information, all of that takes away from the amount of time the officer can spend on fighting crime," Moore said.

In January, the Police Department called for sweeping changes within the department, including rectifying outdated technologies. Its report noted that of 1,150 computers in use, about 300 were less than 3 years old, with the remainder outdated and in need of replacement. Beyond that, the department also called for a case management system that would allow police to provide regular updates on investigations, improved evidence tracking and better records management.

Copyright 2014 - Detroit Free Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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