System Shakedown

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.

System Shakedown

The same year Safir pulled the plug on the computer-aided dispatch project, he killed a property management system the department was building to track evidence such as cash, drugs and other property collected during criminal investigations. The project was begun prior to the arrival of Safir and his OTSD chief Baker, but by the time they assumed their posts the system had become a full-blown runaway.

"I brought a consultant in to look at it—because it was dragging and dragging and dragging. He basically said, 'This thing is never going to work.' So, rather than throw good money after it, we just pulled the plug," Safir says.

Baker says the property management unit neither defined what they wanted to track nor how they wanted the system to track it, properly. If done correctly, the $7 million system could have matched incoming property to existing evidence—such as fingerprints—and helped investigators close cases, Baker says.

In the second half of 2000, two new systems came online, one to track domestic violence and another to keep tabs on vehicles in the NYPD's auto pound, but they were plagued by bugs and slow performance, by some accounts.

Information Builders Inc. (IBI), the New York software house that developed the systems, says the systems ran slowly because IBI and the NYPD overloaded one of the department's already busy IBM mainframes. IBI then used one big IBM machine as a data server and began to distribute the applications onto smaller, dedicated Unix operating system-based computers. The department says the systems run well now.

Baker says, "It's folly to think that you don't have a shakedown period with any new system." But there were no bugs plaguing the system, he maintains. "There were some adjustments that needed to be made, some fine tuning, but nothing out of the ordinary."

The Omniform system, which combines the department's complaint and arrest applications, was late, at least, if not bug-ridden as well. Work on the system began in the 1997-1998 timeframe and it is just being deployed now.

IBI also worked on this project, which has taken four years to turn on. IBI account manager Mark O'Mara says funding—always a constraint—persistently hampered the effort to connect complaints with arrests. Omniform was originally funded by a grant from the Department of Justice—backing which dried up after IBI and the NYPD developed a pilot system. It then took the department and IBI two-and-a-half years to get the city to approve funding for the rest of the project. As fate would have it, the first Omniform application was installed at a precinct on Staten Island on Sept. 10, 2001.

O'Mara says specs were changed but not always incorporated into the work orders of the programmers, and some requirements were missed as a result.

With specifications changing over the years, some work orders were bollixed up, IBI and the NYPD say. But, for the first time, the department now can track a case from complaint to arrest, all on screen. "It's the heart of the police department," says Deputy Inspector Carlos Gomez, who oversees the NYPD's MIS Division.


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