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Seven years after it was touted as an innovative electronic records system to manage police reports from 40 police agencies for sharing, the RegJIN program now has only seven participating agencies, with Portland police stuck kicking in millions of dollars to cover the bill.
Expenses for the system's software and support kept increasing while partner agencies dropped out of a cost-sharing agreement, leaving Portland police to pick up the difference.
Portland police now are asking the City Council to approve $1.4 million for fiscal 2019-2020 and another $1.52 million for fiscal 2020-21 to cover the gaps, plus about $5 million to be set aside to create a new, more affordable system for Portland police. That would happen once RegJin's contract with Canada-based vendor Versaterm Inc. expires in July 2021.
"It really is disappointing. The costs have been uncontrollable," Assistant Chief Chris Davis told The Oregonian/OregonLive this week. "But a functioning record management system is not something we can live without."
The $12.6 million Regional Justice Information Network went live on April 14, 2015, intended to encourage collaboration between law enforcement agencies. It replaced the Portland Police Database System. Though Portland police own the new software, each agency's user fees were to help fund their use and ongoing support.
The ambitious project, though, was beset by problems from the start, with officers complaining that the new system was too cumbersome and complicated to use. They also said inflexible software made it difficult to update the system.
Agencies complained officers took twice as long to complete electronic police reports because entering information into the fields wasn't intuitive. The regional system also didn't match up with other important state and national law enforcement databases, so fixes had to be made.
The problems became so routine that a board overseeing the system began starting its meeting agendas with a "success story'' so its sessions wouldn't just focus on all the drawbacks.
The annual cost of running the program – now about $2.5 million -- didn't drop because fewer agencies were using it.
"It's like a TriMet bus," Davis said. "It costs the same amount of money to run it whether it's full or empty."
Less than a year after joining, the Clark County Sheriff's Office pulled out in 2016, with Undersheriff Mike Cooke calling the project a "disaster.'' Clark County moved to another vendor, Executive Information Systems, or EIS.
Then Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and all municipal police agencies in the county except Lake Oswego left in 2017. They went to a records management and report entry system called Mark43, which Clackamas County Sheriff's Chief Deputy James Rhodes described as "faster and easier," with fewer overtime costs and training hours.
And last summer, the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the county's municipal agencies announced their exit, effective Jan. 1.
"That's when costs went through the roof,'' Davis said.
Though Washington County Sheriff's Office benefited from being part of a law enforcement consortium, RegJIN limited its ability to customize the system for its own needs and records classifications, said Deputy Jeff Talbot, a spokesman.
Washington County is now using a cloud-based records management system through the same vendor that costs less, he said.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office system is now paired with Beaverton police, and the Sheriff's Office hopes to connect with other city police agencies in the county, Talbot said.
In three years, the Portland Police Bureau's share of the total RegJIN cost grew from 32 percent to 83 percent, according to city budget documents.
"In hindsight," Davis said, "I'm not sure we realized what would happen if partner agencies weren't happy and started leaving…We just don't have the money in our budget to afford this.''
Aside from Portland police, the other six agencies still using the regional system are the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, Gresham police, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and the St. Helens, Scappoose and Lake Oswego police departments.
Some of the police agencies that pulled out can still query or view RegJIN data of the remaining agencies for a lesser charge.
The city approved $300,000 to hire a consultant to help select a replacement system for police reports, records management, crime analysis and data sharing. California-based DeltaWRX is still conducting that review, Davis said.
The bureau is considering returning to a database in which each agency has its own contract with a vendor of choice, relieving Portland of the responsibility for all agencies.
Portland police also hope to develop a "sharing hub," which will allow agencies to share information regardless of what system they're using for records management, said Tammy Mayer, the RegJIN project manager.
"Hopefully, this will help reconnect all the local agencies again and meet the main intent of RegJIN, which was to share data,'' she said.