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Duluth police will get real-time data from squad cars

The Last Place on Earth head shop helped pick up the tab for the new $1.6 million records management system, which will give officers and analysts near-instantaneous access to incident reports and crime trends.

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Duluth police Lt. Mike Ceynowa demonstrates the department’s long-awaited new records management system is supposed to be more efficient and help them maintain better crime data than the current system. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
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More than seven years after being shut down, it's hard to find any remaining signs of the Last Place on Earth era in Duluth.

The downtown head shop, which for years peddled synthetic drugs over the objections of local government and business leaders, has long since been replaced by a craft brewery taproom. The store's owner, Jim Carlson, remains incarcerated at a federal prison in Michigan and isn't slated for release until 2028.

But the store's legacy — and the proceeds from its illegal products — will live on in an unusual way: supporting the day-to-day efforts of the police department that worked for years to put it out of business once and for all.

A new records management system launched by the Duluth Police Department on Tuesday received more than $800,000 in funding from the $6.5 million forfeiture order imposed on Carlson following his 2013 conviction on 51 counts.

"After all the harm that he did to our community, for us to have a new records system that's going to help not only DPD, but the entire region, it's going to be really beneficial toward keeping our community safe," Police Chief Mike Tusken said.

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Duluth police were frequently on scene at the Last Place on Earth head shop, which was shut down in July 2013. Proceeds from the store's synthetic drug sales are now helping to fund the Duluth Police Department's new records management system. (2012 file / News Tribune)

Tusken jokingly declared that the new system "will solve crimes by itself." While it's not exactly RoboCop, officials said the system is expected to give officers more comprehensive and timely data for preventing and solving crimes.

The new $1.6 million system, which has been in the works for the better part of a decade, is a custom-built version of the Tyler Technologies New World Enterprise platform.

The Virginia and University of Minnesota Duluth police departments are joining Duluth as the first agencies in the state to adopt the new records system. It replaces a system known as SHIELD, which had been used in Duluth since 2005.

"It wasn't that our old system was a bad system," said Lt. Mike Ceynowa, a member of the team that has spent more than a year working to implement the database. "It was just a system that, for our business needs and our business practices and our volume, just was difficult for us to operate in and difficult for us to report as accurately as we needed to."

Better, more timely data can help target efforts

Up until this point, officers would largely collect data out in the field and use voice dictation to write reports from squad cars. They would then need to return to the office, so the data could be entered into a database by records technicians, who were also tasked with transcribing the reports.

The new system is web-based, allowing all that work to occur from the squad car in real time. Officers will personally enter information on incidents, people, vehicles, weapons, buildings and more. The goal is also to move away from dictation and have officers type more reports, Ceynowa said.

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"It's better if we've got stuff to work with right away," he said.

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Lt. Mike Ceynowa demonstrates how officers will use pulldown menus to fill out reports on the department’s new records management system. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The new system is also expected to bring better data for crime analysis, according to records and technology manager Maya Carroll. The department embraces the CompStat model for identifying "hot spots" in the city and assessing trends in crime activity, with the goal of better directing resources for targeted policing.

In the new records management system, officers will be tasked with filling out a series of data points on every incident. In an assault case, for example, they will specify the location, details on the weapon that was used, whether the suspect and/or victim were suspected of using drugs or alcohol, and any bias motivation or gang involvement.

"One big part of this is that we'll be able to get the characteristics of victims and offenders," Carroll said. "Any crime against a person, essentially, it's going to be required."

While it may appear to be more work for officers, Carroll said they're generally already capturing all of that information. The new system simply cuts out duplicative work that needs to be done by records staff to enter it into the database later on.

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Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken displays a map showing the areas of the city most affected by recent shootings and shots-fired calls during a news conference Thursday at the Public Safety Building in Duluth. (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)

Carroll's team includes eight records technicians and two crime analysts. She said the old system was cumbersome, requiring a lot of tedious steps, but now they can focus more on double-checking officers' work and providing real-time analysis.

"There's so much amazing software out there to analyze crime data," Carroll said. "The issue has always been breaking out into separate elements and compiling that data in a way that doesn't require us to do it manually."

System promises better case management

One change the public may notice with the new system is an apparent uptick in certain crimes. The old system used a hierarchy, where only the highest-ranked offense was reported to state and federal databases.

The new platform will report all involved crimes. Because 10.6% of all cases involve more than one offense, Carroll said there will be some modest increases in the annual statistics for categories such as robbery, burglary and theft.

The new system also integrates the department's evidence room, which Ceynowa said will lead to more consistent tracking and returning of property to victims.

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Duluth Police Department records and technology manager Maya Carroll, left, talks about the agency's new records management system as Lt. Mike Ceynowa listens. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

He said every officer and supervisor will have their own personal dashboard, where they can receive updates on cases or get alerts on a particular person, such as a crime witness that investigators want to interview.

"This will give us better opportunities as supervisors to manage cases and manage caseloads," Ceynowa said. "These are far better tools for that."

Duluth has for several years maintained a records-sharing agreement with the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and the Proctor, Hermantown and UMD police departments. While they'll be using different databases, Ceynowa said the partner agencies are maintaining reciprocal viewing rights.

He said a future upgrade to the Duluth Fire Department's records system could also bring the two city agencies in line, allowing police to have access to information such as building plans.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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