As Police Chief Willie L. Williams and the LAPD embark on a 60-day search for ways to put more officers on the streets, some of the answers they seek may literally be at their fingertips.
In 1988, Craig Crosby, an LAPD field sergeant and amateur computer buff, developed a program for deploying police that some computer experts say could save the city millions of dollars a year and put scores more officers on the streets. The program was test run by the city four years ago, and the commanders who oversaw the experiment were lavish in their praise.
According to documents obtained by The Times, Capt. M. A. Bagdonas, commanding officer of the West Los Angeles area, strongly advised the continued use of the program. Capt. Keith Bushey, commanding officer of the Wilshire area, echoed that praise and added: “I must commend Sgt. Craig Crosby for this excellent recapping program.”
But their advice was not heeded. And Crosby, who submitted his work as part of the city’s employee award program--a program that pays employees when they come up with ideas that save the city money--never got a dime for his efforts.
Frustrated by what he considered the department’s intransigence, Crosby pulled the plug on the program in late 1989. It now sits, unusable, in the Police Department’s computer system, idle even at a time when Mayor Richard Riordan has given Williams the task of coming up with ways to save money and put more officers on the streets. Crosby said that he could have it up and running in a week or so, but the LAPD seems to have no interest in his work.
Crosby said the program could save hundreds of hours in processing paperwork and allow supervisors to measure the effectiveness of their patrols by showing how many officers are needed to handle different kinds of situations. Armed with that information, supervisors could fine-tune their deployment, cutting back officers where they are not needed and adding some where they are required, Crosby said.
Crosby, a 16-year veteran with dozens of commendations, has filed a lawsuit against the city, charging that he was denied money owed to him under the employee suggestion program. The potential savings, according to Crosby’s lawyer, could have reached $40 million a year. He maintains that Crosby is entitled to 10% of that, though an attorney for the city disagreed.
In addition, Crosby accuses his bosses at the LAPD of punishing him with a transfer after he shut the program down. Jury selection begins today in the case.
“We need to get (police officers) back out in the field doing what they’re supposed to,” Crosby said Tuesday. “I’d sure like to win this case, but I’d also like to see some progress for the Police Department.”
Crosby said he has been fascinated by computers since high school and began working on his police deployment program in the late 1980s. He was frustrated by the time-consuming task of filling out daily reports--known in police circles as “daily field activity reports"--and he set about developing a computer program that would make the process more efficient.
He called his program Data Management Systems and spent 2,500 hours perfecting it--all of it when he was off-duty, he said.
On that point, as on many others, city officials disagree. “The city’s position is that he did develop it--if not entirely then at least in part--on city time,” said Lauren Arky, the deputy city attorney defending the city against Crosby’s suit. Arky added that the program relied on LAPD documents and other material that Crosby could only have used while at work.
But Crosby contends, just as vehemently, that the department’s computer system was so antiquated and that his job was so busy--as a field sergeant, he spent most of his time outside the police station--that he never could have worked on the program at work.
In 1989, after signing a licensing agreement with Crosby, the LAPD tested the program in its West Bureau. Commanding officers enthusiastically endorsed it, but when the 90-day test period ended, the department had still not told him whether it would buy the program, Crosby said. That’s when Crosby, who had equipped the program with a kill switch, let his work die.
The next day, Crosby said, he was told that he was being transferred from the Wilshire Division, near his home, to the Newton Division--the farthest point that the department could assign him. He contends that the transfer was retaliatory, part of what officers call “freeway therapy.”
Deputy City Atty. Arky calls that “entirely untrue.” She said witnesses and evidence will show that Crosby was “transferred according to the policy and practices of the Los Angeles Police Department.”
As Crosby and the city wrangle over his program, his lawyer, Martin S. Bakst, predicts that the coming trial will provide a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the LAPD. Bakst intends to call such high-ranking officials as former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and former Assistant Chief Robert Vernon.
Bakst said he believes that the department refused to buy Crosby’s program at least partly because high-ranking officials are angry that Crosby turned it off. In a Dec. 5, 1989, memo, James D. Jones, the commanding officer of the West Bureau, called Crosby’s work “the superior program” but recommended against buying it because of what Jones called Crosby’s “past practices” and “poor reputation.”
Bakst disputes those characterizations and said the LAPD has hurt itself by refusing to put Crosby’s program to work.
“The sad thing about this is that he created something that was badly needed,” Bakst said. “This is something they didn’t have before and they don’t have now. . . . But they won’t use it. It’s a case of command arrogance.”