Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for June, 2010

Seattle City Council Member Tim Burgess: Police Need To Implement Real-Time Crime Reporting, Online

by Matt Rosenberg June 14th, 2010

Other Improvements Urged By Former Cop

Seattle City Council Member Tim Burgess is a former radio reporter and former Seattle policeman who started an international communications and marketing firm he sold several years ago. He almost ran for Mayor in 2009 against incumbent Greg Nickels, but having just been elected to Council a year prior, declined. However he is seen as a rival of new Mayor Mike McGinn and Seattle political junkies expect Burgess is very likely planning a run against McGinn in 2013. So if you like, take a grain of salt along with what Burgess says about the city’s needs for improved policing at a crucial point just before the Mayor decides whom to hire as the city’s new police chief. And please know that we take no sides here politically, choosing not to endorse any candidate or any side in any election. All that said, in an opinion article published in the online news journal Crosscut, Burgess makes important points about the need for Seattle Police to develop better online crime reporting capabilities.

The department’s persistent failure to keep pace with technology is a good example of a lost opportunity. Hardly any other city in the country surpasses Seattle’s software engineering capabilities and yet our police department doesn’t use real-time crime reporting, can’t quickly provide crime trend or hotspot analysis, doesn’t enable crime victims to report online, and doesn’t share detailed crime statistics with the public by precinct, zip code or census track. This is an internal management problem for the department in terms of strategies and officer deployment. In addition, the lack of full disclosure of crime stats breeds suspicion and mistrust in the community. Community leaders often complain to me about their inability to get solid information on what’s happening in their neighborhood.

Seattle has a new public data hub, which is in the early stages, but holds promise. The idea, as in other cities and counties around the nation, is that software developers can build on rich government data sets to create handy applications for the public. The city is also planning to unveil new tools this summer for its public Web sites, allowing creation of customizable “dashboards” to create a more user-friendly and efficient experience. The city also provides a variety of online services for constituents and businesses, and supports several very useful online databases which we’ve written about and discussed on the radio for our Public Data Ferret project, such as the Department of Planning and Development’s Permit Activity Locator, and the health department’s Restaurant Inspections Online. So it’s not as though the city government is clueless about the potential of interactive and timely online tools for constituents.

Nonetheless, Burgess is spot on about the need for real-time and highly localized crime reporting online by Seattle Police; for systematic and very public trend and hotspot analysis online by police; and online crime reporting tools for citizens. It’s 2010, already. Violent assaults on the city’s streets, and residential burglaries and attempted burglaries continue at a pace that causes concern. Safety and security of residents, employees and visitors is a thick thread in the social fabric of any city Seattle’s size, or larger. The need for better and more timely information on crime in the city and more collaboration between communities and the police to deter crime, is pressing. It will be worth watching to see if the city council and mayor can summon the leadership and resources to bring the Seattle Police Department more fully into the Information Age.

UPDATE: This Seattle P-I blog post links to some neat visualizations done by a talented software developer working with City of San Francisco crime data. You see a lot of “hey, look what some guy did” articles like this on “civic apps,” but despite the valuable modeling, it’s not necessarily a sustainable approach. Hire the guy maybe, but you have to budget for it, and keep the effort going, ad infinitum. The building and maintenance of online communications infrastructure for better city crime reporting has to be owned by city government.

U.S. State Department: 2010 Trafficking In Persons Report

by Matt Rosenberg June 14th, 2010

BACKGROUND: Ten years ago the United Nations negotiated international standards to help identify and combat trafficking in persons. This term applies to practices such as forced labor, bonded labor and forced prostitution. At the time, the United States adopted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, under which the annual Trafficking In Persons global report is issued annually to raise awareness of and encourage global action against modern-day slavery.

KEY LINK: 2010 “Trafficking In Persons Report,” U.S. Department of State, June 14, 2010.

SELECTED KEY FINDINGS:

1) There are 12.3 million adults and children around the world in forced labor, bonded labor or forced prostitution. Traffickers do an annual trade of $32 billion. There were 4,166 successful trafficking prosecutions in 2009, the highest number since tracking began in 2004.

2) The report ranks 177 nations in several “tiers” by their efforts to combat human trafficking based on criteria including legal deterrents, vigorous prosecution and criminal penalties; implementation of prevention strategies; provision of victim services, and safe and humane repatriation; and collaboration with non-governmental organizations. The lowest ranked (or “Tier Three”) countries are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, Mauritania, Papau New Guinea and the Dominican Republic. Tier Three countries are subject to sanctions such as the withholding of certain types of U.S. foreign aid, and U.S. lobbying against certain types of aid to them from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Another 48 countries – spread across Africa, the East Asia-Pacific region, South and Central Asia, the Near East, Europe and Central America – fall into the second lowest rank (“Tier Two Watch List”).

3) One of several “troubling governmental practices” identified in the report is “lack of education available to women, girls, and other populations, which blocks them from mainstream economic advancement and leaves them vulnerable to trafficking.”

4) The report also urges increased vigilance in purchasing decisions by consumers and governments. “…it is impossible to get dressed, drive to work, talk on the phone, or eat a meal without touching products tainted by forced labor….Consumer spending and corporate investment in business are leverage points that can turn around a system that has for too long allowed traffickers and economies to operate with impunity….A new paradigm of corporate accountability is emerging demanding companies cast their attentions beyond the places where their products are produced or processed – such as apparel factories and seafood processing shops – to places where the raw materials are collected, harvested, or mined.”

Many additional details and coverage of special topic reports are in the report. Sections reporting on activity in each country can be directly accessed from alphabetical “country narratives” found in the hyper-linked table of contents at the “start” page of the report. A video featuring Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and other State Department officials discussing the new report is also provided.

VICTIMS’ STORIES:

The report includes many examples of trafficking in persons. Here are several.

“Vipul was born into extreme poverty in a village in Bihar, the poorest state in India. His mother was desperate to keep him and his five brothers from starving, so she accepted $15 as an advance from a local trafficker, who promised more money once 9-year-old Vipul started working many miles away in a carpet factory.

Microsoft Seeks To Unite Top Washington Companies On Public Policy Agenda

by Matt Rosenberg June 11th, 2010

Seattle PI.com blogger Nick Eaton has a noteworthy report on Microsoft coming out of the closet, politically. A turning point of sorts was a high-profile campaign by the company earlier this year urging lawmakers to keep moving ahead on the politically thorny planned replacement of the State Route 520 floating bridge. The push included a full-page ad in the Seattle Times.

For the global software giant headquartered in Redmond on Seattle’s booming Eastside, there’s just too much at stake to not try to take the lead in collaborating with other major businesses headquartered in Washington to improve the economy and business climate on the home turf. But they’re not singing the usual song about business regulation. Instead, the priorities are things that affect their bottom line but also matter to us all: transportation, infrastructure, education, and growth and opportunity in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Eaton reports that according to Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and senior vice president for legal and corporate affairs:

To remain a good place for businesses..and to become a more attractive place for corporations, Washington needs to focus and invest in three major areas: innovation, transportation infrastructure and education. Moreover, as Asia becomes the world’s biggest economic power, as Microsoft expects, the Seattle area – with its large Asian community, proximity to Asia and history of trade with Asia – has a golden opportunity to become those Asian companies’ landing point for expansion into the United States.

Microsoft wants to take a leadership role in getting Washington businesses to get the state to where it needs to be. Of course it’s selfish, Smith said, but it should also help the state economy as a whole. “We’re very committed to collaborative efforts,” he said. “We can be counted on to do our share, or even a little more than our share, but we also can be counted on to be collaborative.”

Eaton notes that other corporate heavyweights headquartered in Washington state include Costco, Amazon, Starbucks, Paccar, Weyerhauser and Expeditors International.

The question that remains is exactly what sorts of broader policies would Microsoft and its collaborators advance to improve transportation, for instance, and education? Widespread electronic tolling in Central Puget Sound, keyed to real-time congestion levels? More incentives for telecommuting? Charter schools, which have been shot down time and again in the state? Greater per-pupil funding, enabled by the proposed new state income tax that’s being championed by Bill Gates Sr.? What really works, and what doesn’t?

Moving from the general to the specific is tricky. Not to mention fraught with political peril. The zeitgeist is a piquant stew right now. A few ingredients to keep in mind. Government budget deficits. Tax fatigue. User fees. Public-private partnerships. Empowered consumers.

So Microsoft sharing the weight is good strategy. There are already numerous business advocacy groups in the state and Central Puget Sound. But somehow, none of them have been able to generate enough momentum on the big issues Smith identifies. The success of any business coalition such as that envisioned by Smith will depend in part on its ability to motivate its employees to participate, as well. Microsoft has already shown it can do that. It will be interesting to see how the specifics of the policy agenda develop.

RELATED: “Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000″ Transportation 2040‘”

Public Data Ferret On KOMO 1000: State Disciplinary Actions Against Professionals

by Matt Rosenberg June 9th, 2010

Yesterday on our regular weekly Public Data Ferret segment on KOMO 1000 radio in Seattle, the subject was how to check out businesses and professionals with state licensing authorities to ensure their legitimacy. Here’s the original Ferret write-up on the Washington State Department of Licensing’s disciplinary actions database. And here’s the audio of the radio segment. The transcript follows.

Brian Calvert: “Before you choose your next realtor, your next driving school, your next notary, you just may just want to do some homework. Matt Rosenberg of communityforums.org joins us, that’s where you can use their feature The Public Data Ferret, and it sounds like the Public Data Ferret came across a link to help us check out some key backgrounds.”

Matt Rosenberg: “That’s right. Good morning Brian and Nancy. Most professional service providers are honest and hard-working, but you want to sidestep the bad eggs. And the State of Washington makes that easier to do. The Department of Licensing online compendium of disciplinary actions tells who’s had their license revoked, or who’s had their license application shelved, for how long and why. They cover several dozen speciality professions, and real estate salespeople, it seems, do the darndest things. I’ll give you some examples here. One in Bellevue concealed convictions for residential burglary and attempted theft. One in Edmonds failed twice to deliver earnest money as required. One in Federal Way sold a property with a history of mold. One in Arlington forged documents and failed to run commissions through her broker. Uh, it goes on and on, and licenses were revoked anywhere from nine months to ten years in these cases. Then we’ve got driving instructors.”

City of Renton: Moratorium On Adult Entertainment Businesses

by Andrew Hart June 8th, 2010

BACKGROUND: The current adult entertainment ordinance in place in the City of Renton is over 25 years old and has not been updated. The ordinance allows adult entertainment venues in the “Valley” area of the city. With more adult entertainment venues set to open, the city has deemed it appropriate to assess the impact of these establishments on the community and to consider changes to its guidelines for permitting new entrants. The Community and Economic Development Department has recommended the existing ordinance be studied to determine: what negative effects adult entertainment businesses have on the community, ways to mitigate the negative effects, and to find alternative locations within the city for adult entertainment businesses. After passing an initial moratorium (Resoultion 4037) on March 1, 2010, and holding a public hearing on March 22, 2010, it was suggested that the issue be revisited. The Planning and Development Committee of the Council expressed interest in including additional areas in the moratorium as well as exploring whether taverns near adult entertainment businesses create additional negative effects.

On April 12, 2010, the City Council rescinded Resolution 4037 and adopted Resolution 4041, declaring a six-month moratorium on business licenses or other permits for any new tavern or new adult entertainment venue near any established adult entertainment venues.

Washington State Department of Licensing: Disciplinary Actions Database

by Matt Rosenberg June 7th, 2010

The state of Washington licenses many professions. The Department of Licensing’s online information services for consumers and businesses include a regularly updated compendium of disciplinary actions against business licensees in specialty professions. Professions covered include appraisers, architects, bail bondsmen, cemeteries and funeral directors, real estate brokers and sales people, vehicle dealers, travel agents, limousine drivers and cars for hire, cosmetologists and martial arts instructors, private investigators, notary publics, landscape architects, security guards and collection agencies. Names and locales of businesses and operators are provided, along with month of violation, and the nature and length of the disciplinary action. Supplemental databases – at bottom, here, under “Related” – allow for checking of license status in other professions such as contractors and financial services.

KEY LINK: Washington State Department of Licensing Disciplinary Actions Database.

FINDINGS: Some examples of recent findings follow.

Recent Disciplinary Actions Against Real Estate Brokers and Salespeople. All are named. One in Bellevue failed to advise the department he had been convicted of residential burglary and attempted theft; his license was revoked for 10 years. One in Edmonds failed twice to deliver earnest money as stipulated in a purchase agreement; her license was revoked for nine months. One in Federal Way failed to disclose to a buyer that property he sold had history of mold; his license suspended for 1 year. One in Arlington forged documents and failed to run commissions through her broker; her license was revoked for 10 years. One in Burien failed to disclose a prior conviction for wire fraud and aiding and abetting, and falsified mortgage documents and defrauded mortgage lenders; his license was revoked for 10 years.

Disciplinary Actions Against Driving Schools. All are named. In 2010 to date and in 2009, disciplinary actions included the following. A driving instructor in Vancouver had a suspended driver’s license; his driving instructor’s license renewal was denied for 20 months. One in Port Orchard had a suspended driver’s license; his instructor’s license was suspended for two years. One in Mount Vernon exceed the number of acceptable moving violations in a two-year period and had his instructor’s license suspended for 14 months.

One in Spokane had his driving school owner’s license suspended for five years for operating without a license, and failure to provide the minimum six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction to students. Another in Battleground had his instructor’s and school owner’s licenses revoked for 10 years for fraudulent practices, unreasonable risk, and failure to provide the minimum six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction to students. One in Auburn had his instructor’s and school owner’s licenses revoked for 10 years for operating without adequate vehicle insurance, instructing without an approved curriculum, failing to provide the minimum six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction to students, and unprofessional conduct.

Recent Disciplinary Actions Against Notaries Public. All are named. In 2010 so far, six different notaries public – in Tukwila, Seattle, Tacoma, Bothel, Vancouver, and Longview – had their licenses revoked for periods ranging from one to nine years for being convicted of a serious crime. In 2010 so far, another 16 notaries public in the state have had their licenses revoked or application approvals deferred for actions including violations of professional standards, failure to meet licensing requirements, or failure to cooperate in an investigation.

Recent Disciplinary Actions Against Cosmetologists (hair and nail salons). All are named. So far in 2010, seven different hair or nail salons were fined for violations of safety and sanitation rules. One each was in Vancouver, Bremerton and Seattle and two each were in Burien and Snoqualmie.

RELATED:

Licensing Query System. Professional license searches for many specialty professions. WA Dept. Licensing. provides an information on whether a business or professional has a license, whether it is a city or state license, if it is active, and when it expires.

Look Up A Contractor, Electrician or Plumber, WA Dept. Labor & Industries. Information on license status, complaints, warrants, bonding and insurance.

Health Systems Quality Assurance, WA Dept. of Health. Licensing, complaint and citation information on health care providers and facilities, hotels and motels, farmworker housing and construction projects.

Financial Services Licensee Database, WA Dept. Financial Institutions. Covers mortgage brokers, loan originators, investment companies, business franchises, escrow agents, other financial services.

Corporations Registration Data Search. WA Sec. of State.