Bellingham police won't get information-gathering system

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 10, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - The police department will not subscribe to a new digital information-gathering service after City Council members concerned about the security of the privately owned system asked the department to find another use for a federal grant.

The council's Monday, July 7, request came at the end of a second public hearing about the proposed use of a Department of Justice grant to pay for the first year of Intrado Beware/Address service. The service would have given officers the ability to log in and search a database for a slew of safety information about addresses they are asked to respond to and the people involved in potentially violent calls. The system pulls information from public and commercially available records, social media, the Internet and police databases to give officers a threat indication and hard-to-find information.

No department representative attended the first public hearing at the June 23 council meeting, leaving concerned citizens and council members with unanswered questions. The opportunity for public comment was required as part of the application process for the grant.

At Monday's hearing, Police Chief Cliff Cook and Deputy Chief David Doll apologized for not attending the first hearing, and answered a litany of questions about the program.

Many speakers cited concerns that the system could be misused by officers and said they were worried that data gathered by Intrado, a privately owned company, could be misused by the company.

"This is not a data storage service we are purchasing," Cook said before Monday's hearing. "(It would) provide us some information that would help us assess the incident or situation that we are about to step into in a way where we can avoid confrontations or access other resources."

Much of the information that would have been collected by the system is already accessible to officers and 911 dispatchers, Cook said in a July 9 interview.

Emergency operators have access to the department's internal records system and other systems, but each query is made manually, and those dispatchers may need to keep track of several calls at the same time, Cook said.

"They are multitasking at a very high level, and sometimes they can't search every database we have access to, and they are obviously not searching public information," Cook said. "Ultimately, these types of searches will still have to be done manually when there's time available, and frankly on 911 calls we don't have the ability to do the level of searching that would have been accomplished through that (Intrado) search."

Council voted 5-1, with Cathy Lehman absent and Gene Knutson against, to respectfully request that if funded, the department not use the grant for the Intrado program.

"The only reason this is a difficult decision is because we do trust our police department, and we do want you to have all the information you need," council member Michael Lilliquist said Monday night. "I think the problem is with the source of the information ... its proprietary nature."

Though not required to, the department now will look at a list of other priorities for using the grant money, Cook said.

"We have a pretty long list of equipment and technology needs within the department, so we'll try to select something from that list," Cook said. "We've had a very long and positive relationship with this community, and we don't want to jeopardize that."

The department is not required to hold another public hearing for the chosen alternative, but it will, preferably in the next 30 to 60 days, depending on the council's schedule, Cook said.

The vote was corrected July10, 2014.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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