NEW BEDFORD — According to a dataset compiled by the New Bedford Police Department, a sergeant, who also serves as the union vice president, had two sustained complaints for excessive force against him.
In reality, he did not.
After the sergeant, Graciano Pereira, contacted The Light to state that he has no sustained cases of excessive force, as was previously reported based on the department’s data, the department’s public information officer confirmed the sergeant did not, stating the “program used to generate the data makes it appear that way.”
NBPD along with all police departments across the state were required to submit complaint and discipline data to the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission — a new agency that will investigate and adjudicate claims of misconduct, and have the authority to reprimand, suspend or decertify police officers.
POST will also maintain and publish databases of internal affairs records for all officers.
“By creating a central entity to oversee officer certification, the Commission will ensure that those officers’ training and misconduct records are available both to the Commission and to those officers’ current and future employers, improving accountability,” reads a 2021 press release from Gov. Charlie Baker’s office.
Based on the confirmed errors in New Bedford, The Light requested an interview with Police Chief Paul Oliveira regarding the accuracy of the entire dataset, which contains more than 1,000 rows of data on complaint and discipline histories for more than 200 active officers.
The police chief was unavailable, but Lt. Scott Carola, the department’s public information officer, attributed the errors to a programming glitch.
Carola said the department’s software, L.E.A. Data Technologies, uses a hierarchy, and that if a case involves multiple charges, a lesser of which was found sustained, the program might also identify the most serious charge as sustained.
He said that was the case with Sgt. Pereira, who erroneously was marked with “sustained” complaints for excessive force in the dataset provided to POST and The Light. The program had listed sustained for excessive force and for reporting violations, even though only the reporting violation was sustained.
Carola said, in his view, the spreadsheet that was generated from the program is not accurate, and that members of the professional standards unit will go through the data, case by case, to make sure all the information is accurate. He called it a “regretful mistake” that the department does not expect to repeat.
“We’re definitely committed to putting out accurate data,” Carola said, noting this was the first year that police departments were required to submit this bulk data to POST.
POST established a December 2021 deadline for local police departments to submit bulk data on their disciplinary and complaint records for active officers. The agency provided a submission template, instructing departments to provide specific data in a specific format. For all future complaints, departments will have two days to submit them to POST.
The Light asked POST’s executive director Enrique Zuniga what the agency is doing to ensure that the data it collects from Massachusetts police departments is accurate, and whether POST is concerned about departments submitting inaccurate data.
Zuniga said POST is committed to accuracy and that he believes law enforcement agencies across the state are, too.
“We’re operating under the assumption that law enforcement agencies are very motivated to make sure they are sending us the right and most up-to-date information,” he said. “We have a role in certifying law enforcement agencies so in my view, there are very strong incentives to make sure whatever they report to POST is accurate.”
He said POST has already received requests from police departments to update the data they submitted, or to resubmit it, and that inadvertent errors are possible.
Shea Cronin, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Boston University, said while this data collection process for POST may be new for police departments, checks should happen internally.
“The agency is submitting data on behalf of their officers,” he said. “They should be doing internal checks to confirm that what they are submitting to the state system reflects what they have in their personnel records. But I think within local law enforcement agencies, those processes are not well integrated in every department because they have never had to submit that data externally before.”
Cronin said the data is fairly straightforward and that there is little that POST could do to check the accuracy other than conducting an audit with the local police department to review its original complaint files.
“That’s why local agencies really have to integrate practices to make sure they’re submitting data on behalf of their officers accurately,” he said. “… as they do this over time, departments will better track complaints, they will better manage the information around those complaints and make sure that it is accurate and transparent for everyone to see.”
Zuniga said one aspect to the data being public is that members of the public, the press and police officers will have the opportunity to catch errors or discrepancies, which POST could then correct.
POST will publish the complaint and disciplinary data in two stages. In a few weeks, Zuniga hopes to have an “interim” database available online where people can click a few different options and download the data.
In the long term, POST will publish an interactive database with more features where people can look at several agencies to compare or contrast, query the data, or conduct different analyses, such as filtering for officers who have more than 10 complaints, Zuniga explained.
He said POST has yet to enter a contract with a vendor for the permanent database, and thus could not provide a date for when it will be available.
“Everybody understands there is great interest in this data,” Zuniga said. “Police reform is in great ways about public trust … A big component of that is the information we put out publicly, which is why we’re working hard to ensure it is reconciled, it is updated, and committed to its accuracy. I also believe all parties are committed to that accuracy.”
Editor’s note: This report was updated on March 10, 2022, to include additional information from NBPD about the software program that police say caused the misinformation.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at email@example.com.