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News / Clark County News

Sheriff’s office eyes new records management system

Undersheriff calls Portland-based shared-information network 'a disaster'

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: March 28, 2016, 6:10am

Less than a year after joining a regional records management system that gives deputies access to reports of more than 40 police agencies, Clark County Sheriff’s Office is looking for an alternative.

While there are potential benefits of the Portland-based Regional Justice Information Network, called RegJIN for short, Undersheriff Mike Cooke said that they don’t outweigh the many problems with the system.

“RegJIN is a disaster,” Cooke said. “The system is so needlessly complicated. … It’s really an unusable system.”

Switching off the system has its own ramifications — including ending a contract with Vancouver police that would result in a budget shortfall for the county.

When the agency learned about the RegJIN project years ago, they found the idea appealing from an investigative point of view. Criminals don’t pay attention to city, county or state boundary lines, so the system would allow law enforcement an easy way to share information.

Plus, the county had an outdated records system, so the project would allow the sheriff’s office to upgrade technology without footing a hefty bill. Both Vancouver police and the sheriff’s office got on board in 2009.

But since the system went live in April, the sheriff’s office reported that it has found too many glaring problems to ignore.

Brian Salsig, crime analyst and RegJIN trainer for the sheriff’s office, said that the problem is that the sheriff’s office had already had an electronic police reporting system since 1998. So while RegJIN is an upgrade for Portland officers, Salsig said, Clark County agencies had to give up efficiencies it had built in to the old system over the years.

Entering information is not intuitive — making officers spend about twice as long writing a report, Salsig said. Training deputies on using electronic reporting is also much longer — the old system required three hours to learn; deputies now spend 24 hours in training and even then, they make lots of mistakes, Salsig said.

RegJIN also doesn’t consistently work with other systems that law enforcement use, including those used by dispatchers and state and national crime databases, he said.

And the benefit? Deputies have been so frustrated with the cumbersome reporting that they don’t have time to search other agencies’ cases — and if they did, searching isn’t easy, either, Salsig said.

Prosecutors are also having trouble with the system. Before the switch to RegJIN, reports written by local law enforcement were automatically sent to the prosecuting attorney’s office.

Camara Banfield, chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney, said prosecutors have spent an inordinate amount of time just getting the records they need to file charges and move forward with cases.

“It’s a step backward for us when it comes to usability and just meeting the needs we have as prosecutors,” Banfield said.

In February, the sheriff’s office laid out a list of 21 problems it had with the system, sending the list to the RegJIN system manager in Portland.

The response, Cooke said, was disappointing.

“It seems to be very dismissive of most all of our concerns, and many of the responses indicate to us that Portland themselves don’t completely understand their own system because some of their responses just don’t make sense,” he said.

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To address the problem, the sheriff’s office is in contract negotiations with Executive Information Systems, or EIS, which is currently building the agency’s jail management system. That system is expected to go live in a few weeks.

“We’re actually very lucky with timing,” Cooke said. “We have a built-in plan B that is allowing us to leave RegJIN and have something else to go to.”

Of the $1.5 million the sheriff’s office budgeted for RegJIN, it has spent about $700,000 so far, though it intends to use the rest of the budgeted money for the EIS system.

“Our goal cost-wise is to make this entire switch using existing funds that have already been budgeted,” Cooke said.

City impact

The change carries implications for the Vancouver Police Department, which contracts with the sheriff’s office for its records services.

Because the sheriff’s office records unit wouldn’t be able to handle working with two different reporting systems, the 20-year-old contract that the Vancouver police have with the sheriff’s office to manage records would dissolve.

Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain said he had already been re-evaluating the records contract, and the sheriff’s office decision to move away from RegJIN just accelerated things. 

The sheriff’s office plans to switch from RegJIN to EIS this year, and they offered to pay the build-out costs for Vancouver police to switch with them.

McElvain, however, decided to stay with RegJIN, meaning the Vancouver police will need their own records unit by the end of the year. McElvain said he thinks he can make that happen for around the same amount they’ve been paying the sheriff’s office, which is $1.64 million per year.

As far as RegJIN goes for Vancouver officers, McElvain said that it’s too soon to say if it will work long-term. So far the agency has spent $728,000 to implement RegJIN, a majority of which came from grant money, along with the annual payment for the service of $154,000.  McElvain said he anticipates using the rest of the grant money intended for the project, which is nearly $220,000.

“We don’t think that we have given it a fair enough amount of time to work through the bugs,” he said. “Most people that we have talked to say, for a product like this, as large and complex as it is, it requires 18 to 24 months to work through the majority of the problems. From what we’ve seen, we’ve been making progress.”

Sgt. Jeff Kipp, president of the Vancouver Police Officer’s Guild, said that he has no faith the problems will be fixed and would prefer administrators to be looking for a solution now.

“The people making these decisions don’t use this system. They don’t have to deal with it,” he said.

The two local police agencies’ divergence on reporting and records systems means a shortfall of revenue for the county — to the tune of $1.6 million —  one that the county councilors would have to address when crafting the 2017-2018 budget.

“I think it’s very unfortunate because the records agreement between the city and the county has saved the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of the contract,” Cooke said.

Columbian Breaking News Reporter