L.A. Law

L.A. Law

On his first day, a year ago last August, Roger Ham's city-issued car was stolen-"misappropriated," actually-by an unidentified colleague who never returned the vehicle. Earlier that same day, upon entering his office suite, Ham discovered he had no personal staff (except for one secretary, who was sitting on boxes), no computer and no access code for his telephone. To phone long distance, Ham had to ask his secretary to place his calls. When he called headquarters to request his own access code, he was told to expect one-in a couple of weeks.

Then Ham inquired about his benefits package and found he wasn't even an LAPD employee yet; somehow his paperwork had been lost. "Don't expect to get paid for at least this month," he was told.

Shortly thereafter, Ham delivered his first status report to Chief of Police Bernard Parks, and in it he made light of his misfortune. "It doesn't irk me that someone stole my car and that I have my secretary making phone calls for me," Ham said. "But that I'm not going to get paid for up to three months does, in fact, irk me."

It would be funny if it weren't so sad. Ham couldn't help but wonder, What the heck have I gotten myself into?

Those initial setbacks were only speed bumps compared with the real obstacles he faces. Not only is Ham the LAPD's first-ever CIO, he's also the first civilian brought in as one of eight deputy chiefs reporting to Chief Parks-no easy role in a paramilitary organisation whose officers refer to themselves as sworn personnel (because of the oath they take to serve and protect) and typically shun civilians and outsiders.

In his first year, Ham's task was just to get a handle on the LAPD's IT investment. Now he has to maximise that investment to help fulfill the department's mission: reduce crime and the fear of crime in Greater Los Angeles. And he's got to do this in a highly scrutinised department that, while still recovering from Rodney King and O.J. Simpson, has been splashed with charges of corruption over possible framing of suspects. "Over time, I can't make [the LAPD] perfect," Ham shrugs. "But I can make a difference."

"I'm Never Going Back to L.A."

HAM, 50, NEVER INTENDED to work in law enforcement-or in Los Angeles.

A native of Southern California, Ham earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at California State University, Long Beach, in 1971. His first job out of college was as a project engineer at Mobil, managing computer and communications systems. He loved the work but hated the daily commute into downtown L.A.

After six years at Mobil, Ham learned that the Huntington Beach Police Department needed someone to manage a new automated dispatch system. Here was a chance to move into the public sector and get out of downtown. Ham knew nothing about police work ("I'd seen a little Dragnet and a little Adam-12"), but that didn't hurt his candidacy. The police chief told him, "I can train you to be a cop; I can't train a cop to be an engineer."

In 1976 Ham signed on as the Huntington Beach Police Department's communications administrator and information systems manager-essentially the CIO, although he didn't use that title. Settling into the easier pace of "Surf City"-the official nickname of the Orange County community not far from Disneyland-Ham saw himself staying put for maybe five years. He ended up staying 21.

"I enjoyed the ride," Ham says of his tenure in Huntington Beach. "We really changed the way police officers did their jobs in the field." Huntington Beach was one of the first communities anywhere to put mobile data terminals (MDTs) in police cars, and throughout his term Ham managed to fully automate both the police and fire departments' communications, property and records systems. He also led a successful effort to integrate emergency communications systems for 31 communities within Orange County-at a time when the county was facing bankruptcy and funds were scarce.

Yet, by 1988, Ham was restless. "'Been there, done that' had occurred to me a number of times," he says. He enrolled in an MBA program at the University of Southern California, fully expecting a return to private industry. "I knew technology was my strong suit, but I wanted to learn how to use technology to affect the bottom line of a corporation," Ham says. "I wanted to be in a bigger pond."

Little did he know that his opportunity would come from the big, bad pond he'd left behind.

"We Need a CIO"

THE LAPD HAS SPENT MOST of the '90s on the wrong side of public opinion. From 1991 to 1996, the department was stung by a series of public embarrassments that began with the Rodney King battering case, peaked with the questions raised in the O.J. Simpson trials and in between saw the messy transition from longtime police chief Daryl Gates to his ill-fated successor, Willie Williams. When Chief Parks took command in August 1997, the LAPD was longing for leadership. (As we were researching this story, the latest charges of corruption arose, and it was too soon to say who might ultimately be held responsible for this mess.) Amidst the LAPD's chaos, the IT organisation was equally chaotic. Part of the problem was that, up until then, there had been no single IT organisation. IT resources were spread throughout the department, with one branch overseeing communications projects, another in charge of LANs and desktops, and yet another in charge of mainframes and databases. Troy Hart, an LAPD veteran with 20 years' sworn and 15 years' civilian experience, headed the former Information Resources Division (which merged with the Systems Development Task Force to form the IT department, also headed by Hart). It was like being half of a two-headed beast, he says, adding, "We were married in intent, but divorced in paths of delivery." Both groups, for example, recognised that police officers needed better information systems out on the streets. But while Hart's group, the Information Resources Division, was lobbying for laptops, another team leader was lobbying to upgrade the MDTs in the squad cars. (The two projects are now married and working in parallel.) Partially in response to the crises of the early '90s, L.A. city leaders determined that better information systems were the key to providing more efficient and effective law enforcement, so they freed up millions of dollars for IT projects. Mayor Richard Riordan raised $15 million in donations aimed at jump-starting the LAPD's IT modernisation, and voters in 1992 approved a $235 million bond to upgrade communications systems and build two new police dispatch centres.

But there remained a huge problem: IT leadership. Although the LAPD hired many civilians to staff IT positions, management roles traditionally went to sworn officers who lacked not only IT skills but also the desire to stick around and acquire them. Police officers, after all, wanted to do police work, not manage computer systems. IT management tended to be a position that sworn officers rotated in and out of quickly.

Carlo Cudio, a 29-year LAPD veteran, was the last sworn officer in charge of IT prior to Ham's arrival, and he readily acknowledges his discomfort with the role. "People thought I was a guru because I knew WordPerfect and they occasionally saw me with a floppy disk in my pocket," says Cudio, who was appointed to the job in 1995 by then-chief Williams. Yet Cudio was hardly a technology whiz, and he had no interest in ending his career behind an IT department desk. "I always saw my role as maintenance until a real CIO got here," Cudio says.

Relief came to the LAPD with the arrival of Chief Parks. A 34-year police veteran, Parks had managed communications as deputy chief, and he'd developed an appreciation for what IT could do for law enforcement. One of his first acts was to reorganise the entire LAPD, streamlining administration and chartering a new, all-encompassing Information and Communications Services Bureau. To head the new ICSB, Parks created a new deputy chief position for a civilian CIO-one who would have the responsibility and the authority to move the LAPD forward.

But creating the position was one thing; filling it was quite another.

"It Was Like a Major Fire Drill"

It was an offer that Ham could easily refuse. Contacted in early 1998 by LAPD officials who knew his work in Huntington Beach and wanted him to apply for the CIO job, Ham weighed his options. On the plus side, the LAPD had the potential to be a world-class organisation in a world-class city, and Parks was trying hard to polish the department's tarnished image. On the downside, the LAPD was riddled with politics, and the civilian CIO would likely face resistance from sworn officers...and the job was based in downtown L.A. Plus, if he was going to make a move, Ham wanted it to be in big business, in senior management at a big-name company like Hewlett-Packard or Motorola.

But the more he thought about it, the more Ham realised that the LAPD represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If he succeeded, well, then maybe five or so years down the road he'd be even more desirable to one of those big-name companies. That realisation clinched Ham's decision. "I knew I'd get respect from [business] people if I had this experience," Ham says.

And what an experience it's been. Ham is continually astounded by the enormity of his job. Foremost is the scope of the work. "Someone pointed out to me early on that here in L.A. we have 18 different police stations as big as the entire Huntington Beach Police Department," Ham says. "Here if something is a problem, it's a big problem."

Ham became a quick study of the LAPD's IT resources. Working six days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day for his first several months, he assessed the department's immediate needs. "It was like a major fire drill," Ham says. "There were stacks of paperwork, projects, contracts being sent out." And every so often he'd make a weird discovery such as this: The LAPD's four traffic divisions had four different ways of collecting traffic data-with one person printing the data and collating it by hand. "My heart sank many times as I questioned, 'Why are we going in this direction?'" Among his early initiatives:

Merging resources. Ham combined the Information Resources Division and Systems Development Task Force, creating a new Information Technology Department headed by Troy Hart. Similarly, Ham appointed new heads to his other three subdivisions.

Mending fences. Although long ago funded by voters, the construction of new police dispatch centres had been a political football between the LAPD and city hall, as various parties fought over where they should be located. With the authority of his high rank, Ham was able to settle the disputes and get the project rolling.

Addressing staff needs. Before Ham's arrival, the LAPD had never outsourced any IT tasks-and consequently was understaffed in almost every office. Ham has paved the way for his managers to explore outsourcing solutions. (For his more current to-do list, see "On the Chief's Radar," below.) "You're a Chief" Ham has barely begun his second year on the job, but already he's seen some successes. The official groundbreaking for the construction projects took place Sept. 23, he has a new consolidated data architecture plan in hand, and the first 700 MDTs have been installed in police cars. These MDTs are the first step toward implementing a new field data capture system that will allow officers to enter crime data and write reports in the field, not back in an office. "We have 9,600 police officers on the streets," Ham reasons, "and if I can improve their efficiency just 10 per cent, then I've effectively put 1,000 additional officers on the streets." And if officers have more visibility on the streets, police officials hope, then citizens will feel safer and more confident in the LAPD. And at a time when the LAPD is embroiled in yet another scandal, Ham's efforts will be doubly necessary to counterbalance the department's image problems.

The scandal isn't even Ham's first major crisis. One weekend last fall, a fire broke out in the building that housed the LAPD's central 911 system. At the time, Ham was attending a football game with his family, but he was paged to the scene, where he discovered his systems had suffered heavy damage from fire and water. Marshaling his forces-LAPD staff and vendor support troops-Ham directed a massive data and systems recovery that was estimated to take four days, but they finished in 13 hours. "And we never lost a single 911 call," Ham says with pride.

These achievements have done much to build Ham's relationship with the sworn officers, who had every reason to be suspicious of the CIO. After all, he was an outsider, and the last high-ranking outsider in the LAPD was ex-chief Williams, who won few friends in his short term.

Ham thinks the sworn officers cut him some slack because of his high rank, but he's also taken steps to earn their respect. Step one was to immerse himself in police work. This is a trick he picked up back at Huntington Beach, where he even signed up for firearms training and proved he could shoot as straight as many cops. Ham has been very visible around LAPD, asking questions and absorbing answers. Step two, he's become an effective advocate of the department, representing technology issues (the IT budget, Y2K) before the city council and in the news media.

"Sworn officers are very goal- and task-oriented; they think they're more effective than we civilians," says Hart, Ham's direct report who has served as both a sworn officer and a civilian employee in the LAPD. "You need to win over these people by getting them to understand and appreciate competency. [Ham] has passed that test."

Ham's predecessor, Carlo Cudio, agrees. He's been promoted to deputy chief since Ham's arrival, and now he's happy to be back doing police work at the LAPD's South Bureau, located in the epicentre of the infamous L.A. riots. "Ham has done great," Cudio says. "He went out and learned the job himself; he didn't need to be baby-sat. He put a lot of hard hours into it, and he's pulled it off."

But what happens when the current money runs out? "The city council is used to dealing with stars and bars," says Cudio, who wonders how councilors will respond when a civilian walks in requesting big bucks for, say, a PC replacement cycle. So far, Ham is encouraged by how well he's been received. Not long ago, he attended a city function and ran into Deputy Chief Michael Bostic, head of the department's Valley Bureau operations. In the course of conversation, Ham addressed Bostic as "chief."

"You don't call me chief," Bostic responded. "You're a deputy chief too; you call me Mike."

"Ah, but I'm not really a deputy chief," Ham said. "I'm a civilian."

"No, no," Bostic said. "In your job you do all the stuff the rest of us can only dream of knowing how to do. You're a chief."

On the Chief's Radar

Here are the top projects facing the LAPD's top technologist Proposition M A $235 million, voter-approved bond issue to replace the LAPD's current voice radio and mobile data terminal systems with state-of-the-art tools and two new police dispatch centres. The centres-one in downtown L.A. and the other in the San Fernando Valley-will double the department's capacity to handle emergency calls.

Field data capture A project aimed at creating a paperless crime-reporting system. New mobile data terminals are currently being issued to field officers, allowing them to gather investigation data and prepare reports in the field in real-time.

LAPD online The LAPD has created a 2,200-page Web site that allows the public easy access to crime statistics, contact information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Data architecture strategy The LAPD contracted Sierra Systems Consultants to reengineer the department's IT architecture and draft a new data architecture plan.

Detective case tracking system A new project to help detectives track and manage their cases in a citywide basis, sharing information with other detectives who may be pursuing similar suspects or cases.

Nonemergency number As part of the communications system upgrade, the LAPD is creating a new nonemergency number (877-ASK-LAPD) to reduce the strain on 911.

LAPD by the Numbers

1,350 mobile data terminals issued.

5,400 police incidents daily.

6,000 911 calls daily.

8,000 nonemergency calls daily.

150,000 people arrested by LAPD each year.

350,000 crime reports written each year.

500,000 citations written annually by LAPD officers.

$100 million Ham's approximate annual IT budget.

$400 million total value of current IT projects.

$1.2 billion LAPD's approximate annual budget.

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