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Philadelphia City Controller Crowdsources Fraud Detection

OptimusZedOptimusZed Registered User regular
edited April 2011 in Debate and/or Discourse
The City of Philadelphia has a lot of problems, fiscally. We aren't suffering from the budgetary woes that are showing up other places, mostly because we're not afraid to raise taxes, but the services bangs for our tax bucks are sometimes not where we'd like them to be. This is due in part to the fact that Philly is a patronage city, in the old school east coast meaning of the word. There are also programs that operate less efficiently than they should (or are officially assumed to), programs that seemed like a good idea at the time but have since proven otherwise (like the thing where we pay city administrators to retire, then hire them back on), and in some cases as in any system this complex, we've got straight up fraud and abuse.

The person tasked with finding and fixing our fiscal issues is this guy;

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And so far in his two terms as controller he's done a pretty good job. He and his office have routed out fraudulent overtime claims from city contractors that had apparently been routinely filed since at least the Nixon administration. They also cracked the whip and finally got our (privately operated) ambulance corps running efficiently and with some degree of speed. And now he's out after absentee landlords that aren't keeping up their lots. There are a lot of wins on this guy's record.

Now, he's asking for help.

His office has produced an Iphone app that lets citizens report perceived fraud instantly. Complete with photo-upload capability, GPS tracking, etc. I don't have an IPhone or IPad, or any internet phone for that matter, so I can't really say how user friendly it is.

What do we think, D&D? Is this the future of combating fraud? Or is this just going to turn into a way to troll the government with thousands of false reports that they must then follow up on? How much good is this sort of crowdsourcing when it comes to government responsibility? Obviously, citizen reports are already a big part of identifying fraud. Is this going to make citizens more likely to do so? Are we all going to have one of these apps for our locality in 5 years?

OptimusZed on
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Posts

  • BubbaTBubbaT Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    I think it helps. Filing a complaint still isn't truly anonymous, as the website can likely still see your IP and stuff, but it's more anonymous than having to file a complaint in person.

    I don't know what the bureacratic atmosphere of the Philly Controller's office is like, but I know that for a long time in my city (LA), civilians were reluctant to file complaints against the police because they were intimidated and feared retaliation. A more anonymous complaint system would have helped to reduce that fear.

  • adytumadytum Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Sounds like a good idea, particularly if it's handled delicately and is able to insulate the reporting system from agencies that are being reported on while maintaining transparency.

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  • GoodOmensGoodOmens Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    I suspect that this will lead to many more false leads than anything. Most people don't really understand what fraud is, or what information would be useful to investigate it.

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  • NailbunnyPDNailbunnyPD Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    What is a "patronage city"?

    I think this is a good idea. Lord knows Philly needs to using its resources as efficiently as possible. My opinion may be biases, but when I was in a South Philly police station (as a victim of crime), it seemed apparent that they did not have the back-end resources they should have in this era. For a city that large, it was kind of depressing to see the station was far from modern.
    GoodOmens wrote: »
    I suspect that this will lead to many more false leads than anything. Most people don't really understand what fraud is, or what information would be useful to investigate it.

    Maybe, but then it shouldn't take someone more than a minute or two to review the submission and determine its not worthwhile to investigate.

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  • TomantaTomanta Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    GoodOmens wrote: »
    I suspect that this will lead to many more false leads than anything. Most people don't really understand what fraud is, or what information would be useful to investigate it.

    That is going to be the biggest problem. Education can help, maybe even some tips in the app.

    And any tip submissions can be looked at and either discarded, filed away for later (in case they get more information), or marked for active investigation.

    It's an interesting experiment, I'm curious to see how it goes.

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  • OptimusZedOptimusZed Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Philly is a patronage city in that it's political environment is very "I scratch your back, you scratch mine." Everything from the police force to the museums budget to Philadelphia Parking Authority operates on an elaborate system of reciprocal favors. Ward bosses get jobs to hand out to grease wheels for the reelection campaigns of various city officials. It's a very insular and at times anti-democratic political environment.

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  • NailbunnyPDNailbunnyPD Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    OptimusZed wrote: »
    Philly is a patronage city in that it's political environment is very "I scratch your back, you scratch mine." Everything from the police force to the museums budget to Philadelphia Parking Authority operates on an elaborate system of reciprocal favors. Ward bosses get jobs to hand out to grease wheels for the reelection campaigns of various city officials. It's a very insular and at times anti-democratic political environment.

    Ahh, I knew as much, but didn't know the term, nor did I realize it was almost designed that way.

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  • TastyfishTastyfish Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Now I'm amazed the police don't have one, you'd save a ton on CCTV as well as making it easier to report a crime (with the exact place and time)

  • OptimusZedOptimusZed Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    OptimusZed wrote: »
    Philly is a patronage city in that it's political environment is very "I scratch your back, you scratch mine." Everything from the police force to the museums budget to Philadelphia Parking Authority operates on an elaborate system of reciprocal favors. Ward bosses get jobs to hand out to grease wheels for the reelection campaigns of various city officials. It's a very insular and at times anti-democratic political environment.

    Ahh, I knew as much, but didn't know the term, nor did I realize it was almost designed that way.
    Yeah, the system is set up to encourage that sort of behavior. I haven't been here long enough to know whether it was originally designed that way or not, but it's basically self sustaining at this point.

    We're reading Rifts. You should too. You know you want to. On Hiatus!

    Any gamers in the Danville, PA area? PM me if you're interested in some tabletop gaming.
  • tinwhiskerstinwhiskers Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Tastyfish wrote: »
    Now I'm amazed the police don't have one, you'd save a ton on CCTV as well as making it easier to report a crime (with the exact place and time)

    Police and cell phone video cameras don't exactly get along.

  • TastyfishTastyfish Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Tastyfish wrote: »
    Now I'm amazed the police don't have one, you'd save a ton on CCTV as well as making it easier to report a crime (with the exact place and time)

    Police and cell phone video cameras don't exactly get along.

    I was waiting for that.

    Plus you've got a way of charging them directly presumably if it's a fraudulent claim, since it's something also used my marketeers and competition runners so the biggest problem (despite the fact that a phone can do this anyway at the moment).

  • shrykeshryke Member of the Beast Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    I think this will solve one of the big issues with reporting fraud and such. It's not just anonymity, it's time and effort. You gotta go down to wherever later and fill out paperwork or make a phone call or something. With a system like this, you can just send it off in a minute, right on the spot and be done with it.

  • JihadJesusJihadJesus Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    How much fraud can you easily snap a cellphone picture of anyway? If there are three guys working on the pothole, it's fraud if they invoice for 4....but how the hell would you know that? If they charge for 10% more concrete than they need, that's fraud....but how the hell would you know that? Etc.

    And that's only the stuff that has discrete, physical meaning. If all they're doing is lying on paperwork or shifting assets or a billion other kinds of white collar crimes there's zip all this will do.

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  • Void SlayerVoid Slayer Very Suspicious Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    Most of the time tip lines do not provide actual incriminating evidence, instead it gives a lead that allows an investigator to know where their time will be best spent.

    I think in the case of videos or pictures, it could tell the investigators something like "hey it is obvious enough I am taking pictures, how about come down and secretly tape some construction sites and go through their records afterwords."

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  • lifeincognitolifeincognito Registered User regular
    edited April 2011
    OptimusZed wrote: »
    OptimusZed wrote: »
    Philly is a patronage city in that it's political environment is very "I scratch your back, you scratch mine." Everything from the police force to the museums budget to Philadelphia Parking Authority operates on an elaborate system of reciprocal favors. Ward bosses get jobs to hand out to grease wheels for the reelection campaigns of various city officials. It's a very insular and at times anti-democratic political environment.

    Ahh, I knew as much, but didn't know the term, nor did I realize it was almost designed that way.
    Yeah, the system is set up to encourage that sort of behavior. I haven't been here long enough to know whether it was originally designed that way or not, but it's basically self sustaining at this point.

    As far back as the 1980s it has always been that way. It may be caused in part by the never ending mafia presence. Or that nearly all positions of power/authority are given to a friend of a friend with few people being capable of handling their positions.

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