Evaluation of the Use of Computers in Patrol Cars by the San Francisco Police Department, 1999-2000 (ICPSR 3489)
In an effort to reduce the workload of police officers participating in problem-solving and community-oriented activities, the San Francisco Police Department applied for and was awarded a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Making Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE) grant in 1995 to integrate Mobile Computing Terminals (MCTs), or laptop computers, into its daily operations. The National Institute of Justice funded an evaluation of this COPS MORE initiative. The evaluation examined the efficacy of a technological intervention to improve operational efficiency, service quality, and the corresponding changes in officers' attitudes and behaviors associated with integrating the use of MCTs for computerized incident reporting into the work process. The two systematic methods of data collection used for this research project were pencil-and-paper surveys of officers' attitudes toward computers and community policing and direct observation of the behavior of officers on patrol, including measurements of time to complete reports and time engaged in police activities.
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Colvin, Caran. EVALUATION OF THE USE OF COMPUTERS IN PATROL CARS BY THE SAN FRANCISCO POLICE DEPARTMENT, 1999-2000. ICPSR version. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco State University [producer], 2003. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2004. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR03489.v1
Persistent URL: https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR03489.v1
This study was funded by:
- United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (98-IJ-CX-0012)
Scope of Study
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Study Purpose: The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has had a long-term community policing plan since 1989. The SFPD defines community policing as a philosophy, management style, and organizational strategy that promotes (1) proactive problem-solving and police-community partnerships, (2) full-service personalized policing in which the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis, from a decentralized place, and (3) a high quality of life in San Francisco's neighborhoods through police-community partnerships that identify, prioritize, and solve problems. Because problem-solving involves a more intensive and long-term approach to crime prevention, departments implementing community policing are challenged to find methods of freeing up additional officer time to engage in problem-solving and community-oriented activities. In an effort to facilitate its workload reduction strategies, the SFPD applied for and was awarded a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Making Officer Redeployment Effective (MORE) grant in June of 1995 to integrate innovative technology, namely Mobile Computing Terminals (MCTs) or laptop computers, into its daily police operations. The MCTs represented a potential time-saving device for officers on patrol. With funds from COPS MORE, the SFPD purchased 336 MCTs to replace the KDT-480 dumb terminals that were installed in patrol cars. Funding to purchase software that would enable the electronic submission of reports from the field was also provided. The installation of the MCTs into patrol cars and the electronic submission software were part of an administrative strategy to increase the efficiency of the work process by shifting the entire department to computerized incident reporting. Under the previous system, the Department estimated that two hours of each officer's shift was spent traveling to the district police station to access computer equipment to complete crime reports, or handwrite the standard seven-page report, as no portable computers were available for use in the field. The National Institute of Justice funded an evaluation of this COPS MORE initiative. The evaluation examined the efficacy of a technological intervention to improve operational efficiency, service quality, and the corresponding changes in officers' attitudes and behaviors associated with integrating MCTs into the work process. This project evaluated the effect of MCTs on two measures of organizational effectiveness that were operationalized as (1) the number of hours saved through implementation of MCTs and (2) the allocation of time saved to community policing.
Study Design: The two systematic methods of data collection used for this research project were pencil-and-paper surveys of officers' attitudes toward computers and community policing (Part 1) and direct observation of the behavior of officers on patrol, including measurements of time to complete reports and time engaged in police activities (Part 2). Of the 1,091 sworn members of the San Francisco Police Department, 819 participated in the survey and ride-along observational activities across the three time periods: 163 at Time 1, 205 at Time 2, and 451 at Time 3. The 819 patrol officers were asked to complete surveys on computer attitudes and community policing (Part 1) and a subset of 463 officers participated in the observational activities: 96 at Time 1, 185 at Time 2, and 182 at Time 3 (Part 2). Patrol officers participated in the observational study if they were assigned to one of the shift and sector combinations that was randomly selected for a ride-along. The simplest quasi-experimental design would have been to observe the behavior of patrol officers in five stations that had received MCTs compared to officers in five stations that had not yet received them. However, the extraneous effects of observation potentially contaminate a design that simply compares an experimental group to a control group. Therefore, the researchers used the Solomon four-group design to estimate and control for the effects of observation. The basic unit of measurement and analysis was the ride-along. Random combinations of shift halves and sectors were used to develop the ride-along schedule. The shift half was a five-hour period that occurred either during the first half or the second half of the shift. During their shifts, officers were assigned to a district sector, and they patrolled that sector for the entire time. The shift halves and sectors that were randomly sampled at Time 1 were sampled again at the successive measurement periods. Time 1 was the pre-test period before the MCTs were installed. Time 2 was the post-test period during which some groups had MCTs and some groups did not, allowing the researchers to control for the effects of observation. Time 3 was the second post-test period during which all groups had MCTs. Due to the longitudinal nature of the study, it was not possible to measure individual patrol officers as the unit of analysis. Officers were rotated on a regular basis from one district station to another. The nature of police work differed significantly between district stations, so measuring the same officer at two different stations would introduce a confounding factor into the study. Within a district station, shift and sector provided a level of analysis that was consistent across the different measurement periods, and thus was less likely to introduce extraneous factors into the study. Prior to data collection activities at each district station, members of the research team attended roll call at all of the shifts in order to provide information about the study to patrol officers. At the beginning of a given ride-along, the study was explained to the patrol officer, and his or her informed consent was obtained. The officer was told that participation was voluntary and that he or she could withdraw from the study at any time. During the five-hour ride-along, the observer collected information on the amount of time the officer spent on various secondary activities. At the end of the ride-along, the officer was asked to complete the Computer Attitude and Community Policing Attitude Surveys. Survey responses and observational data were anonymous and could not be linked to the officers. Only the ride number identified the observations and surveys. Officers who did not participate in a ride-along were asked to complete the surveys and place them in a drop box at the district station. These surveys were anonymous.
Sample: For Part 1 all sworn officers were asked to complete a self-administered survey. For Part 2 patrol officers participated in the observational study if they were assigned to one of the shift and sector combinations that was randomly selected for a ride-along.
Data for Part 1 were collected through self-administered questionnaires. Data for Part 2 were gathered from self-administered questionnaires and observations of ride-along activities.
Description of Variables: Survey variables for Parts 1 and 2 include officers' attitudes on the importance of access to state and federal databases, detailed analyses of crime patterns, maps of crime hot spots, information about community events, saving time writing reports, more time to spend on patrol, flexible technology, accurate technology, technology that is easy to understand, and dependable technology. Other survey questions captured the officers' attitudes toward community policing, such as the use of innovative solutions to crime problems, communication with the public, teamwork with other officers, knowledge of community resources, pressure because of the demands of community policing, amount of training in community policing, and rewards for practicing community policing. Officers were also asked whether they had ever used a personal computer and for what purposes and whether they had ever received formal training on computers. Demographic variables for Parts 1 and 2 include age, years employed by SFPD, level of education, county of residence, gender, and ethnic identity. Part 2 contains additional variables from the observational data collection, including time spent on report writing, on the computer, at the station, in the field, on calls for service, on patrol, in court, and interacting with citizens.
Extent of Processing: ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:
- Standardized missing values.
- Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.
Original ICPSR Release: 2004-03-18
- 2006-03-30 File UG3489.ALL.PDF was removed from any previous datasets and flagged as a study-level file, so that it will accompany all downloads.
- 2006-03-30 File CB3489.ALL.PDF was removed from any previous datasets and flagged as a study-level file, so that it will accompany all downloads.
- 2005-11-04 On 2005-03-14 new files were added to one or more datasets. These files included additional setup files as well as one or more of the following: SAS program, SAS transport, SPSS portable, and Stata system files. The metadata record was revised 2005-11-04 to reflect these additions.
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