The Information War

Posted 2002-09-10 Print this article Print

A year after Sept. 11, law enforcement far too often finds itself left alone on the front line of defense.

The Information War

New York, in fact, is proof-positive of the effectiveness of the timely collection and sharing of information.

New York was crime-ridden prior to 1994, when newly elected Mayor Rudolph Giuliani brought in Bratton to be his police commissioner.

Bratton and his direct reports reorganized the department and developed the CompStat system—under which each of the city's 76 precinct commanders became responsible for collecting weekly crime statistics, pinpointing trouble spots, and coming up with plans to clean up those areas. New York now has one of the lowest crime rates of any major city in the country, with 3,722 crimes per 100,000 residents—well below the national average of 4,206 crimes per 100,000 residents.

But CompStat is only one weapon in the war on crime. And most experts believe that the NYPD would be an even more-effective crime fighting force if it had the right technology.

"What we have in place is an infrastructure that is aging, significantly," says Deputy Chief John Gilmartin, the current head of the Office of Technology and Systems Development (OTSD). From the IBM mainframes, to the networking infrastructure, to the terminals in its patrol cars, the equipment, he says, "has run its life cycle."

Gilmartin is a no-nonsense cop who carries a gun tucked in the waistband of his pants. The former precinct and borough commander, who had overseen OTSD during Kelly's previous stint as commissioner, 1992 to 1994, was asked personally earlier this year to again take the command. His directive: get the department's information and communications infrastructure up to date as fast as possible.

It might be the toughest assignment in Gilmartin's career. The OTSD has historically been handcuffed by a lack of funds and bad project-management skills.

Last year, according to New York City documents, the NYPD spent $9.2 million on computer and communications equipment. Technology consultancy Gartner Inc. says government agencies typically spend 1.3% of their budgets on computer and communications equipment, compared to 3.6% for private companies. A department with a $3.8 billion budget, such as the NYPD, could be expected to allocate $50 million for information technology gear. If it were a company, it likely would allot $136 million.

After Sept. 11, New York City did appropriate $92 million this year for computer and communications equipment and is planning to budget $134 million for next year. Much will go toward radio and communications improvements.

But the department still has to overcome its legacy of project mismanagement.

In the early 1990s, the department began working on a computer dispatch system. The city planned to put terminals in its patrol cars to electronically dispatch them to handle complaints and emergencies. The system also would have provided the officers with background information on subjects and addresses before they reached the scene, alerting them, for instance, to possible stashes of guns or drugs.

However, the project ran so over budget and so behind schedule that Police Commissioner Howard Safir killed it in 1998. The project, according to various sources, cost the city between $11 million and $20 million. As a result, the department continues to dispatch cops over a radio network that was developed in 1968 and at times is so busy that cops cannot run routine checks through dispatchers.

"It's unfortunate that sometimes, in emergencies, we have too many people trying to key the radio at the same time," admits Gilmartin.


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