Vallejo was once a thriving town with a Navy shipyard, Mare Island, that employed most of the City’s residents. In 1996, Mare Island was closed, which decreased revenue from property taxes, devastated local businesses, and left many residents without work. The U.S. financial crisis amplified the City’s budgetary problems, and the City filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
While the City Council recently passed the first structurally balanced budget in over a decade, the bankruptcy had a profound impact on the City’s ability to provide services to residents, the effects of which continue to be felt today. Many City services were cut including the police department, which experienced a 40% cut in staffing levels. Within the context of severely limited resources and reduced staff, Vallejo partnered with Code for America to use technology to improve public safety and increase community engagement.
The Code for America fellowship is an opportunity for us to enhance communication and increase engagement, and to maximize public involvement and collaboration. The City Council and I are thrilled to have been selected after having made the application to Code for America a top priority this year. We look forward to the many possibilities that will surely come from this fantastic partnership.”
Mayor Osby Davis, Vallejo, California
During their year working with the City of Vallejo, the Vallejo fellows conducted over 53 hours of interviews with residents, shadowed the police department in 18 different sessions, and reviewed over 100 databases. One of the first stories they heard during their research was of Vallejo resident, Tina E.. After Tina’s house was burglarized, she organized a neighborhood watch group that resulted in a decrease in crime in her neighborhood. The police department decided to hire her to lead the Community Services Section (CSS) of the police department. Since then, Tina has helped build hundreds of neighborhood watch groups and she maintains a strong relationship with many Vallejo residents.
In shadowing CSS and Tina, the fellows noticed that a lot of time was spent on a manual intake process. With about 200 calls to their voicemail inbox a week and a system that relied on members of the CSS team to transcribe these messages by hand, the fellowship team saw an opportunity to leverage technology to increase efficiency and allow for more time spent serving the community.
The Vallejo fellows identified 3 major goals for their project:
- To help CSS work efficiently
- To help them work more collaboratively across departments
- To enable them to serve more diverse segments of the Vallejo community
COMPASS, a tool built to help CSS with intake and management of reports of nuisance properties and quality of life, features an interface that enables residents to file reports via web, text, and voice in english and spanish. For administration and analysis, the team worked with city staff to design a easy to use interface to manage and update reports. Additionally, the Vallejo fellows initiated conversations with officials from Indianapolis, IN, Richmond, CA, and Oakland, CA to discuss ways in which technology can help improve relations between police and the communities they serve.
The city and CSS have taken over maintenance of COMPASS. While trusting relationships are built by people, not by digital tools, the hope is that COMPASS provides an entry point for residents to engage with the police department to help the City work better for everyone.
Meet the team:
Team Leads: City Manager and Joanna Altman, Administrative Analyst
Community Partners: James Irvine Foundation