François Vigneault

IN CLARK COUNTY, Washington, it became known as the “RegJIN effect.”

Sheriff’s deputies just north of the Columbia River had been told for years to expect a game-changing crime reporting system that would allow them to seamlessly share information with pretty much every law enforcement agency in the region.

And that system—the Regional Justice Information Network, referred to as RegJIN (pronounced “region”)—did change the game. Just not in the right ways.

When the system went live in April 2015, formerly simple police reports became lengthy undertakings, snatching deputies off patrol for an hour or more, according to Clark County Undersheriff Mike Cooke. Hence the “RegJIN effect.”

“It was so inefficient that we actually saw a dip in the number of bookings in the jail,” says Cooke. In some instances, deputies “wouldn’t make an arrest to avoid being tied up for an hour or two with paperwork,” he says.

It’s a dramatic account, but not entirely unique. As law enforcement agencies work to familiarize themselves with the $12.6 million records system spearheaded by the City of Portland, there’s widespread agreement it’s demanding more officer time than many would like—even as the software recently faltered when it came to submitting detailed reports to the state.

The difficulties shouldn’t be all that surprising. The Canadian software firm officials hired to build RegJIN also sold Portland a new 911 dispatch system in 2011, causing near-mutiny from local law enforcement agencies upset by how buggy it was. Portland re-hired the company, Versaterm, anyway, agreeing to pay nearly $6 million more for the new records system than the estimated cost from another vendor.

Now it’s up and running, and agencies have already jumped ship.

In June 2016, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and four other Washington State law enforcement agencies gave formal notice they’d be discontinuing use of RegJIN. They’ve since purchased and launched a new records system that Cooke gushes about for its simplicity and cheaper costs.

“It is everything RegJIN wasn’t,” says Cooke, who describes the regional system as “going back 10 years in computer technology.”

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 officers at police departments in Vancouver, Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and dozens of other jurisdictions are still using RegJIN to report crimes. All told, involved agencies cover 43 percent of the state, according to city staff.

Daryl Turner, president of Portland’s rank-and-file police union, the Portland Police Association, tells the Mercury the new RegJIN system has frustrated Portland cops, and is taking up more of officers’ time as the short-staffed Portland Police Bureau struggles to attract new recruits.

“It’s not as fast and as user-friendly as the system we had,” Turner says. “You’re having officers off the street more, which means not having the time to proactively police.”

The issues aren’t limited to lengthy reports. After months of tinkering, officials recently concluded that the software they purchased from Versaterm wasn’t able to send detailed information to a crime database maintained by Oregon State Police, as planned. The system’s being rejiggered to report a smaller array of data.

Amid that confusion, Portland was unable to submit 2015 data to a yearly report published by the FBI to track crime trends nationwide. The city hopes to have the bugs worked out by the February deadline for submitting 2016 crime rates to the feds.

People at the heart of the RegJIN rollout concede it’s been rocky.

“It is very complicated and it’s not as easy as what officers used to have,” says Tammy Mayer, a senior program manager at the police bureau overseeing the RegJIN roll out. “But it is improving. I think the majority of agencies see the potential and the benefit.”

Lana Richards, a Versaterm project manager, contends agencies that have been proactive about learning the system are “doing really well.”

And it’s true that the system has its fans. Beaverton Police Officer Sean Hinkley, who helps train officers on RegJIN, tells the Mercury that the swift information sharing permitted by the system has, for instance, helped Beaverton cops arrest people sought in Portland. And he says the lengthier reports RegJIN requires make searching the system more useful than other applications.

“We’ve had cases that have been solved because of the ability to read other agencies’ reports,” Hinkley says.

The grousing about RegJIN is strikingly similar to Portland’s last outing with Versaterm. As the Mercury pointed out three years ago, officials picked the Ottawa-based company in 2013 despite difficulties associated with a new 911 dispatch system Versaterm sold the city in 2011.

At the time, officials offered glowing reviews of the records system they’d convinced Portland City Council to pay for, and suggested that the difficulties with the 911 dispatch system—which included software crashes and cops being erroneously dispatched outside of their jurisdiction—wouldn’t be repeated.

Such was their optimism that, when the city’s first choice to provide a new records system fell through, officials agreed to nearly double the estimated costs of a system by choosing Versaterm.

In fact, the rollout will cost even more than that. After officials learned the software couldn’t meet state reporting standards earlier this year, the city applied for nearly $400,000 in federal grant money to pay for fixes.

Portland City Council, voting unanimously to approve that money on November 2, was downright chipper about the project and its history.

“Good work, thank you,” Mayor Charlie Hales told city staff, not long after several audience members had raised questions about the process.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz, was a bit more defensive, saying with her vote:

“If I thought that something had gone wrong, I would say so. I continue to support what we did, even though I continue to get quite a lot of questions from the community about this.”