What? Two Stories on the Same Day? Yikes–hurry!

Among the aspects of real-life journalism that permeated classroom conversation—and student workloads—was that reporters are expected to juggle several assignments at once because deadlines are constant. Some of my students—including this one—churned out stories from public meetings coverage alongside their capstone papers.  

By Julian Moncaleano

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ government audit and oversight committee held a public hearing Nov. 15 about how to improve data sharing among public safety and criminal justice departments—despite a plan that has seen 20 years of mostly stalemate.

The JUSTIS database, which stands for Justice Tracking Information System, is supposed to track behavior such as police stops of civilians, arrests and use of force. The city is looking to invest in technology that would essentially make San Francisco residents feel safer.

But JUSTIS isn’t functioning as planned. In the late 1990s, the goal was to connect the city’s law enforcement offices and eliminate paper. This didn’t happen. The San Francisco Police Department, for instance, still uses paper to issue citations. Because of too little funding and staffing, the records of the police department, the sheriff’s department, the district attorney, the public defender, juvenile probation and adult probation have never been electronically combined under a unified software system.

At the recent hearing, the information-sharing benefits of a unified system like JUSTIS were discussed. Domestic violence cases were one kind of example. There are calls from residents to police complaining of domestic violence, but it is unclear how many of these calls and reports result in arrests. With JUSTIS, the city will be able to monitor and determine how each reported incident was handled.

Susan Merritt, the police department’s chief information officer, explained how JUSTIS would work. “Officers will just enter citations on a smartphone that will be shared to the JUSTIS hub and then to the courts. We’re aiming to make data a tool for crime fighting and for stopping crime.”

Most of the members of the public who attended the hearing seemed to support the idea of database sharing so that the public can more easily access the information.

“It bothers me that they (government agencies) get to choose their own software,” said George Wooden, referring to the current systems of managing and tracking cases. “They should be on the same software so they can share this info to get better results.”

The major issue facing JUSTIS is its technical support. They were expected to work with the city’s department of technology but failed to get priority. Supervisors at the recent hearing kept asking Merritt about the possibility of hackers, but she assured them that data is protected.

The hearing ended without any decisions made.

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