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QID pro quo

Tinkering with the algorithm that generates Police QIDs produced unexpected results.

The cause of the Police QID slip-up that led to duplicate identity numbers being issued to new staff has been identified and is in the process of being fixed.

Police’s chief information officer, Superintendent Rob Cochrane, has been overseeing the remediation of what has turned out to be a complex issue. He confirmed to Police News last month that it was turning out to be “a bit of an exercise”.

At one time, QID (query identity) numbers consisted of a member’s initials and four numbers that corresponded to the order in which they had graduated in their wing. The system evolved to QIDs being issued alphabetically by surname and, as the numbers reached 8999, additional letters were included and fewer numbers, for example, EBC001 instead of EB8999, and so on, sequentially generated by an algorithm.

So far, so good, but in early 2020 concerns were raised about the potential for four-letter QIDs generated by the system to combine into an inappropriate or offensive word.

With the best of intentions, says Rob, a tweak was made to the algorithm to identify all potential letter combinations that might fall into that category.

“However, the algorithm rejected so many combinations that the numbers quickly ran out and the cycle started over with single-letter QIDs.”

And that was how duplicate QIDs, or ones very similar to those of older serving and retired members, began appearing on the shoulders of new staff who graduated between March and November last year.

The anomaly was quickly noticed by older staff. Apart from the concern that QIDs hold a lot of significance to people even after they have left Police, an even bigger worry expressed by one member was that a QID that had belonged to a police officer murdered on duty might be recycled.

Rob says the algorithm glitch has now been fixed and the sequence has returned to four letters, but with the additional oversight of a human being reviewing the QIDs to catch any potential word problems.

No inappropriate “four-letter words” ever did make it out of the system, but recycled QIDs do pose a more serious risk.

Because of the way they are issued, QID numbers also indicate length of service. For example, a “G” means about 27 years, but there are currently some “G” QIDs assigned to staff who have only about six months’ service.

“This can be a problem for dispatchers wanting to assign or contact senior staff for particular deployments or for deciding who should be in charge at a scene,” Rob says.

Four exact duplicate QIDs were issued last year, and those staff have been given new QIDs, Rob says. Apart from those, there are about 200 sworn members who have compromised QIDs that are similar to those of people no longer in Police. These will also be reissued.

But, as Rob explains, it’s not just a matter of issuing a new QID. It has to be updated in all the Police systems that rely on QIDs, such as logging on, tagging in, payroll, NIA and CHIS (covert human intelligence sources).

Non-sworn staff have also been caught up in the QID reissue, but because their numbers are not used in the same way as constabulary numbers, Police has decided it is not necessary to reissue those QIDs.

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This column is written by a frontline police members. It does not represent the view or the policies of the Police Association.

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