Data analyst frustrated by slow response from JPD to registration requests

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – On Monday, 12 News told you about our complaint about public records to the State Ethics Commission. We checked ethics records and found that the Jackson Police Department (JPD) has been convicted of multiple offenses in recent years, most notably in a case involving SpotCrime.com’s Brittany Suszan.

“It’s been so crazy in Jackson,” Suszan said. “I mean, that’s not that’s not a typical response from a police department, especially Jackson’s size.”

Suszan is the vice president of the site. This is an online crime alert service, free for public use. SpotCrime takes public data from police departments across the country and uses it to map crime incidents down to the block level. This is exactly what they wanted to do with JPD’s major crime diaries.

“They had a diary that they would post on the website and update every week,” Suszan recalls, “and it only included a log of criminal incidents that had occurred across town in the previous week which stopped in 2018. “

Suszan filed for public registration with the City of Jackson on December 20, 2018, for “the Jackson Police Department Crime Register for dates November 13 through December 19, 2018, including Street, Block , type of crime, date “.

She received a formal acknowledgment from the city the same day. On January 2, the city told her it needed more time and apologized for the delay. Then, nothing, for more than five months.

“I had followed up with them several times, and no one was responding to me,” said Suszan. “I didn’t get a response saying, hey, we’re looking at this or, you know, we’re having issues or there’s a backup or whatever. It was just silence.

Suszan has filed a complaint against the public records with the Mississippi Ethics Commission, which oversees compliance with the state’s public records law. The city’s response: The call center had just switched to a new computer-aided dispatch system, or CAD software.

“And with this new system, we no longer have what is called a major crime diary,” she said. “Now if this new system has another report called something else. I believe so. But because I didn’t specify exactly which report to pool for them that already existed, I guess they said there were no reactive records. “

The city told 12 News, in our own public record request this year for the department’s service call log, that JPD has changed its CAD software, and the data we requested is apparently archived in the. old system, beyond the reach of archives clerks.

It took about a year and five months for the commission to rule on Suzan’s complaint. The commission found that the city of Jackson had violated the law, “by failing in a timely manner to deny Brittany Suszan’s application for public registration.” The Ethics Commission orders the city of Jackson… to adhere strictly to statutory deadlines and procedures… and recommends that the city appoint a public records officer in accordance with the rules of the Mississippi public records model.

The SpotCrime analyst finally got something from the city.

“What I did after that was I requested the exact same data, I requested the same data, but with an up-to-date 2019 date range. It took them a few weeks. I didn’t not know exactly how long, but they responded and charged me $ 9.00 for the data. There were no locations with it. There is no way to plot it on a map. Obviously , I want to map it in place, deliver the email alerts. We don’t charge anyone for the email alerts. The inventory map is free. Our apps are free. But what I also ask each agency to doing is posting the data publicly on their website, ”Suszan said.

The city was doing just that until 2018, at the top of the first Lumumba administration. JPD has published crime data on its open data portal.

“All I wanted was for them to start updating their website again, like they did in 2018,” said Suszan.

She says public data like major crime logs and 911 call data are important public resources. They help citizens to assess the effectiveness of their police force. And they highlight problem areas for crime trends and response times.

“It’s mind-boggling what’s happening in Jackson, where the police agency is going to drag their feet to respond to these types of requests for public information that is public,” she said. “It’s not something that is private information. This is all public information. You only harm your audience if you only talk about your issues behind closed doors.

Suszan has filed a new complaint against JPD, but even if the Ethics Commission rules in its favor, this panel has very limited enforcement powers.

Any official who unduly denies an application for public registration, or tries to charge unreasonable fees, may be held civilly liable in a personal capacity, but the fine in such a case would not be more than one hundred dollars per violation.

12 News will keep you posted on the progress of our own ethics complaint.

Sean N. Ayres