François Vigneault

BY THE TIME it was retired in 2015, the city’s old Portland Police Data System had stored police records for more than three decades. Now, that system’s $12 million replacement might already be on its way out.

In part of an ongoing spiral of dysfunction, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) says it needs more than $900,000 to cover unanticipated costs for its three-year-old record management system. That’s not so surprising—since it went live in May 2015, the Regional Justice Information Network (or RegJIN, pronounced “region”) has seen a steady stream of defections by local law enforcement agencies, which means remaining agencies have to pay more to keep it going.

More notably: For the first time, the PPB is acknowledging it might need to ditch RegJIN altogether. The bureau is asking for $300,000 to pay a consultant to study replacements.

That tidbit was tucked into a requested budget the PPB filed last week. The document included a head-turning request for more than 90 new sworn police positions, and floated the possibility of the bureau moving its Central Precinct headquarters out of downtown.

Less noticed, but just as striking, was a request for more than $1.2 million to cover rising expenses attached to RegJIN and research for a potential replacement.

“The bureau and a substantial number of the Chiefs and Sheriffs of partner agencies met to discuss this in August and again in November,” the request reads, “and by consensus believe that it is prudent to explore options for possible replacement of this system to one that has a more sustainable cost model.”

It’s a rare display of doubt for a bureau that has stalwartly defended the RegJIN software. But it makes sense: The system has been troubled almost since it went live.

When Portland City Council approved the system in 2013, RegJIN was touted as a way for law enforcement agencies in the Portland area to seamlessly share information. Beaverton cops who stopped a suspect, for instance, would be able to immediately see if that person was wanted in Portland. The system had buy-in from 43 different agencies, with around 2,900 total users (nearly a third of them from PPB).

As the Mercury has reported, this sales pitch was enough for the city to spend double what it had originally planned for RegJIN—more than $12 million instead of an early $6.5 million estimate—and to partner with a Canadian software company called Versaterm, whose products local cops had disliked in the past.

But three years after its launch, RegJIN users are quitting in droves.

A number of Clark County agencies were the first to jump ship. Then several Clackamas County agencies opted out, settling on software they said was far easier to use. Two other departures are expected in coming months.

In total, more than 50 percent of the system’s non-PPB users have already abandoned RegJIN, and the city is contemplating the possibility that rate could rise to 77 percent in coming years. The exodus puts the state’s largest law enforcement agency in the position of having to pay $915,250 more than planned next year, according to the PPB budget request.

“Additional early exit decisions... only heighten the need to carefully assess and define alternatives as quickly as possible,” the document reads.

Agencies who’ve left the system complain that RegJIN is hugely inefficient, requiring officers to take far too long to write reports. Clark County Undersheriff Mike Cooke told the Mercury in 2016 that his deputies were choosing not to arrest people simply to avoid the unwieldy paperwork, adding that the system was akin to “going back 10 years in computer technology.” Daryl Turner, president of Portland’s rank-and-file police union, has voiced similar concerns.

Hiccups with RegJIN have also made it difficult for local agencies to transmit crime data to the Oregon State Police and federal officials.

For its part, the PPB now believes there are better products on the market, acknowledging in its budget request that RegJIN involved “relatively old technology,” and that “vendors have entered the field with more advanced technologies that are better suited to the needs of these systems.”

Still, when the Mercury raised the possibility of PPB scrapping its relatively new records system, spokesperson Sgt. Chris Burley took exception.

“The Police Bureau and RegJIN partners are not ‘scrapping’ the system; rather, researching the best products available at this time,” Burley said. “Versaterm was the best option for the time, but technology changes at a rapid pace and it is incumbent upon RegJIN to ensure the technology we use has evolved with today’s technology enhancements.”