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Metro police test app to track suspect interactions

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Law enforcement agencies have long studied crime statistics to identify trends, but a new software program being tested in West Bloomfield allows police to turn the data scrutiny inward.

Force LMS, developed by a retired Wayne police officer and the owner of a Livonia data firm, tracks hundreds of metrics, providing microscopic details about officers’ use of force, police pursuits and training.

After an officer uses force or chases a suspect, for example, data can be logged into the software about such things as the number of shots fired or whether injuries were sustained, along with minutiae such as lighting and weather conditions, footing, whether the suspect was moving, and in which direction.

Gathering and studying that information allows police departments to tailor their training, said Jeff Felts, owner of Center Mass Inc. and a retired Wayne police officer and sniper for the Western Wayne Special Operations Team.

“It makes no sense to train for a force situation on a sunny June day if 90 percent of your incidents are happening at night during cold weather,” Felts said. “The only time police generally change their training is when it’s required by law or when something egregious happens.”

With recent widespread protests about police brutality, the need for police departments to scrutinize how they’re using force is stronger than ever, said Felts, who partnered with Rich Miller, owner of Livonia-based AM Data Services, the developer of the software. Besides West Bloomfield, it’s being tested in four other markets.

Many departments have embraced the COMPSTAT (Computer Statistics) model of policing to identify crime trends, and the Force LMS software uses a similar approach — but instead of looking at data about crimes, it allows studying different trends within the police department.

The University of Cincinnati signed up to test Force LMS after a campus police officer was videotaped fatally shooting a man during a July 19 traffic stop. The shooting of the black motorist, which resulted in the officer being charged with murder, sparked outrage, and continued questions about the role of race in law enforcement.

“Is a department using more force on a certain segment of society? What were the circumstances? These are things police departments need to know,” Felts said. “Instead of having hard copies of reports in a file, the software allows a quick look at trends, and allows police to alter their training, so they can change what isn’t working and avoid litigation.”

In Michigan, the Wexford County Sheriff’s Office also is testing the software’s beta version.

“At first, I was really looking at a fancy record-keeping program, but after using it, I’ve found it also spits back stats to allow you to tailor your training,” said Sgt. David Sage, training coordinator for the West Bloomfield Police Department.

“We obviously don’t have many uses of force here in West Bloomfield, but it makes sense to have all that data available if you need it,” Sage said.

The program gives officers their own page, allowing them to identify trends in instances they’re involved in, and compare them with other officers. Once data is input, police officials can crunch data to get information on individual officers, or to look at trends involving the entire police force, Felts said.

Miller said he’s working on a mobile app that could be used on officers’ smartphones.

The software will cost departments an initial fee of about $5,000, plus annual licensing fees of about $195, Miller said.

“For those departments that don’t want to purchase the hardware, we also have a cloud available,” Miller said.

The software, which is set to be released in November, is also being tested in Gadsden, Alabama, and Live Oak, Texas.

Felts said he got the idea for the software while talking with a Marine sniper who said he used a data book to track things such as wind conditions to adjust his scope.

“That showed me the power of statistics,” Felts said. “If you look at data over time, it tells a story.”

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