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Rochester eyes software that claims to predict police misconduct 

click to enlarge The Rochester Police Department is adopting a piece of software from Benchmark Analytics, which claims it can predict problem officers.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY RYAN WILLIAMSON

The Rochester Police Department is adopting a piece of software from Benchmark Analytics, which claims it can predict problem officers.

Can a computer predict when a cop may go rogue? The Rochester Police Department wants the city to pay $500,000 to find out.

The department wants to contract with a group of data scientists from a Chicago-based company, Benchmark Analytics, that claims to have developed software that can foresee adverse interactions between officers and civilians and suggest preventive measures.

It may sound like something out of a dystopian future, but the software is in use in 150 police departments nationwide, according to the company.

The Rochester City Council is expected to vote on Dec. 20 on employing the technology here for the next five years at a cost of $100,000 annually.

“What we’re trying to do is bring more data into establishing if there is any sort of pattern” to officers’ behavior, said Rochester Police Department spokesperson Lt. Greg Bello.



The program, called the First Sign Early Intervention Model, was developed by researchers at the University of Chicago and uses an algorithm that is said to take into account data points related to an officer’s performance to identify potentially troubling patterns of behavior. The model claims to predict whether officers pose a risk to themselves or others, and can advise training to address specific issues.

Take, for example, an officer who uses force during an arrest. That officer fills out a report detailing why the force was necessary that is then reviewed by his superiors. If the force is deemed justified the story mostly ends there, unless it is followed by a complaint from the public or a lawsuit.

But the Benchmark Analytics software compares the arrest to previous incidents involving the officer and considers other metrics, such as the number of hours the officer had logged that week, their driving record, and complaints against the officer.

All that information, the company claims, can predict police misconduct and be used to recommend early-intervention training to steer the officer onto a new course of action.

Like many police departments, the RPD already has an early-alert system in a software called IAPro, as well as an alphabet soup of other data collection tools. IAPro specifically focuses on complaints and other violations logged in the department’s Professional Standards Section.

Bello said the Benchmark Analytics model allows the department to take data out of “silos” and put it under one umbrella that paints a broader portrait of officer behavior.

The proposal has gotten pushback from Michael Mazzeo, the president of the Rochester Police Locust Club union, who argued the plan was a costly exercise in doing something that sounds good but offers no path to improving the department.

“This pisses me off,” Mazzeo said.

“This is just putting another dog in the hen house without saying, ‘Hey, maybe we should look inside the hen house,’” Mazzeo said. “All of these things focus on the good cops, not the bad cops.”

Representatives from Benchmark Analytics did not return a message seeking comment.

In a news release issued last year, the company’s co-founder, Ron Huberman, described the company as “fair brokers” whose only agenda was using data and analytics to help police departments improve the performance of their workforce.

Funding for the software would come from a pool of city tax dollars meant to meet the recommendations of the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE). The commission was formed following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and was meant to pinpoint areas of racial injustices in Monroe County and offer policy solutions.

The contract with Benchmark Analytics before the City Council did not go out to bid.

In a memorandum to city lawmakers, Police Chief David Smith argued that the company’s technology was the only viable option and that putting the request for such software out to bid would have been a waste of time.

“A (bidding) process would unnecessarily delay RPD’s ability to analyze all those disparate data to produce an accurate picture of officer performance and to prevent potential harm to the community and officers,” Smith wrote. “The public demand for a fundamental change in public safety should not be delayed further to run a competitive process which will yield Benchmark as the only vendor able to provide this service.”

No encompassing independent study showing the efficacy of the software in preventing instances of police misconduct has been done. But that has not stopped cities big and small from using the technology.

In 2020, the Dallas City Council approved a contract with Benchmark Analytics, spurred by a series of racial justice reforms prompted by the national outrage over Floyd’s murder. Earlier this year, the city of Minneapolis approved a $1.25 million contract with Benchmark Analytics.

An early adopter of the technology was the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in Charlotte, North Carolina, which approved using the model in 2015.

That department had an early-intervention system that was reportedly based on a simple formula: Officers who were the subjects of more than three complaints in a six-month period were flagged as a risk for being problematic in the next year. Supervisors then decided what corrective action to take.

The new technology reportedly flagged 51 percent fewer officers than the previous system, but correctly identified more officers who went on to be involved in adverse interactions the following year.

Bello, the RPD spokesperson, said the technology offers the department a unique opportunity to set a high bar for officers.

“It will help us hold ourselves to that standard, because what it will do is it will help us get ahead of possible deficiencies, and correct them earlier,” Bello said. “...It will make it a lot easier and a lot more efficient to look at the bigger picture of what’s going on in our department, and how we can make corrections to that within our department.”

Gino Fanell is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.
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