Charles Brennan: how the Police Department's first Deputy Commissioner of Science and Tech changed how Philly's cops do their jobs - Technical.ly Philly

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Nov. 15, 2012 10:00 am

Charles Brennan: how the Police Department’s first Deputy Commissioner of Science and Tech changed how Philly’s cops do their jobs

A look at the city's Top (tech) Cop.
Updated 11/15/12 1:53 p.m. to make the last line clearer, as it was easy to confuse Jennifer Brennan with Charles Brennan.

This is the third story in a multi-part series looking at the state of police IT: where it’s been, what’s it like now and where it’s going. Find the other stories in the series here.

Charles Brennan knows it sounds crazy, but he can still remember having to force computers on police captains.

It was back in the mid-to-late 80s, said Brennan, the Police Department’s first Deputy Commissioner of Science and Technology, when computers were so expensive that the department could only buy 10 at a time.

Some police captains didn’t want anything to do with the new technology, he remembers. (Now, the focus is when cops are still using typewriters.)

He said police captains would tell him, “Don’t put that computer in my office. Put it out there with the secretary. I don’t want it.” Sure enough, a few weeks later, Brennan says they’d call him up and say, “You know that computer out by the secretary? Can you get me one of those?”

Former police deputy commissioner Charles Brennan (left) in a photo from 2000. Courtesy of the Temple Times archives.

Brennan, 62, was something of a technology pioneer at the Police Department. His former colleagues credit him with pushing the Police Department into the future during a time when top brass didn’t see the worth of technology. Brennan developed ideas for new systems to increase accountability and help cops do their jobs, sought funding for the projects and saw them to their end.

Brennan, who grew up in the Southwark area of South Philadelphia, joined the police force in 1973. After a few years working the streets, he took a job in the Police Administration office working with computers, though he had zero tech background. Brennan was less interested in computers and more interested in working normal hours (the night shifts were rough, he said). But soon, the computers started to grow on him. (And we’re talking mainframe computers — PCs hadn’t been invented yet.)

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In 1998, he was appointed the Police Department’s first Deputy Commissioner of Science and Technology by then-Commissioner John Timoney. He oversaw all police IT projects until he retired in 2006. He then joined state government to work as its deputy secretary of Public Safety Radio Services. Today, he lives in Roxborough and works as a senior consultant at Essential Management Solutions, a 911 management service out in Pottsville, Pa.

Brennan oversaw numerous projects, including putting mobile computers inside cop cars, implementing a digital arrest warrant system and automating payroll. He said he’s most proud of making crime data accessible so officers could do their jobs better. When he started at the Police Department, if an officer wanted data on a certain crime, it would take two weeks to get it, he said.

“But when I left,” he said, “you could do it in two seconds.”

He’s also the one who hired Robert Cheetham, now the CEO of GIS firm Azavea, to develop a police GIS so officers could identify crime patterns. (Read more about the new Philly police GIS, launched this fall, here.)

It was Brennan’s leadership and vision that really propelled the Police Department in terms of technology, Cheetham said.

“There was no funding in the department for this,” Cheetham said, speaking of the time before Brennan was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Science and Technology. “No mandate from the top. No one was clamoring for it. It wasn’t something the public was asking for.”

“[Brennan] was really an example of someone who had the leadership to see what was possible, to see how it could have an impact on crime,” he said.

Ray Hayling, the current interim director of Police IT. Photo courtesy of Patch.com.

When Brennan retired in 2006, the department turned over his responsibilities to Deputy Commissioner of Administration and Training John Gaittens. Gaittens said he didn’t have the technical skills to do the job, so he suggested that a Director of Police IT position be created for a civilian, rather than a cop. This position was initially under the umbrella of the Police Department but was transferred to the Office of Innovation and Technology during the city’s IT consolidation effort (though the director of Police IT still worked out of police headquarters).

The city hired Gery Cardenas for this position in 2006, but Cardenas left this post at the end of the summer, according to multiple sources, though the city’s Chief Innovation Officer Adel Ebeid has not yet confirmed this. Cardenas could not be reached for comment. The city is looking for a new director of police IT, Gaittens said, but for now, Deputy CIO Ray Hayling holds the position with the help of GIS/IT Program Manager Jennifer Brennan.

Hayling, a former Deputy Director of IT for New Jersey, was in the news this summer, when Fox29 reported that he had previously been charged with forgery and falsifying records though the charges were later dismissed. Hayling declined to comment on this matter.

When asked about his interim position via email, Hayling said it was an important and challenging job. The challenge, he said, lies in introducing new ways of accessing data to help cops do their jobs better, while still maintaining the “legacy applications” where the data lives. He added that it’s important to make new systems user-friendly, so cops can adapt to them (Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay agrees: he’s been known to say that he wants every police IT tool to be as user-friendly as TurboTax.)

Jennifer Brennan, who is working with Hayling to manage police IT and has no relation to Charles Brennan, previously worked on the Philly 311 app. She did not respond to a request for comment.

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