Questions dog city’s much-touted police records management system.

Last updated: March 31. 2013 9:26AM - 5939 Views
By TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER



Capt. Robert Hughes of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department demonstrates how an officer retrieves data while out in the field in a police vehicle equipped with a computer. (PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER)
Capt. Robert Hughes of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department demonstrates how an officer retrieves data while out in the field in a police vehicle equipped with a computer. (PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER)
Story Tools:

Font Size:

Social Media:

WILKES-BARRE — When City Police Chief Gerry Dessoye applied for a $500,000 federal grant for a records management system in 2009, he touted it as a state-of-the art program that would enhance the city’s crime-fighting efforts.


With the “click of a computer mouse,” Dessoye said, the Total Enforcement records management system would significantly reduce the amount of time officers spent doing reports and give them access to a plethora of information.


The program would, among other things:


• Allow officers to access every report in the records department from laptop computers in their police cruisers, with the potential to someday instantly obtain reports from nearby communities through a data-sharing network.


• View live streaming of video from a crime scene or city school taken by the citywide surveillance camera system.


• Receive an alert from license plate integration cameras stationed in city parking garages if a vehicle being sought in an investigation drove by.


It sounded like a crime fighter’s dream.


But critics of the system say that dream hasn’t come true.


Nearly three years after the grant was approved, the “cutting-edge” system Dessoye described in the grant application has delivered on few of the promised improvements, they said. And there are doubts whether several key elements will ever come to fruition.


Consider:


• There’s virtually no chance the city ever will be able to electronically share/access reports of other police departments because Wilkes-Barre is the only department in Luzerne County that uses Total Enforcement. The system also is not connected with Luzerne County 911, which precludes officers from receiving data on their laptops.


• The proposed integration with the city’s camera surveillance system and the license plate recognition cameras have yet to be implemented. City officials say they’re working on it, but it could take as long as five years before everything is operational.


• Rather than save time, several police officers said the data-entry process is complicated and cumbersome, forcing them to waste valuable time they could use to be on patrol.


Critics contend it’s not the system Dessoye described when he applied for the grant the city obtained from the U.S. Department of Justice’s COPS program.


$1.2 million spent


The city spent $1.2 million in federal and state grant money to purchase the Total Enforcement software, computers and associated hardware and technology needed to operate it. In addition to the $500,000 COPS grant, it received $500,000 in local share gaming money from the Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development and another $200,000 grant from DCED’s Community Conservation and Employment program.


The grants paid for equipment, including 12 laptop computers for police cars, eight desktop computers, two computer servers, the records management software, licensing fees to Microsoft and other assorted items, including mount packages and installation.


Dessoye maintains the system has lived up to its hype. But three city police officers who use the system say it’s been a debacle.


The officers, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss department business publicly, said they encounter multiple difficulties with the Total Enforcement system


The software, designed by a New York company, was pre-loaded with the New York Crimes Code. That meant Wilkes-Barre officials had to manually enter the Pennsylvania Crimes Code — a process city officials acknowledged still is not entirely completed.


Equally troubling, the officers said, is the system did not come pre-loaded with the Pennsylvania Vehicle code — an issue that remains. That creates an additional layer of work for police who must use two different systems to create a complaint whenever a criminal charge includes a moving vehicle violation.


For instance, officers can write up a drunken-driving complaint using Total Enforcement, which will pull up the DUI statute. But if they want to add a summary traffic citation of running a red light — a common violation that gives police probable cause for a DUI stop — they have to revert back to the old system, print out the charge and physically attach it to the report, the officers said.


The situation is the same for some charges in the crimes code. Some lower-level, less frequent crimes have not yet been manually entered, meaning an officer has to take additional steps to enter them into their reports, they said.


“The whole thing is a joke,” said one officer. “It’s such a pain and time-consuming.”


The lack of an appropriate vehicle code in the system is one of the most frustrating things, a second officer said.


“I can see the city ordinances not being in there, but the two state statutes you need the most are the crimes code and vehicle code,” the officer said. “For the money they paid, you’d think it would list all the charges in there.”


The officers said the system also is cumbersome for entering data, requiring them to re-enter information into multiple fields, whereas other records management systems automatically transfer that information among fields.


Decision defended


While acknowledging there have been some issues in fully implementing the system, Dessoye said he believes it works well in meeting the department’s needs.


“This is the system we thought would work for us with the volume of information we have,” he said.


Drew McLaughlin, administrative coordinator, said the program was purchased through the state’s CoStar program, which allows government bodies to purchase items from state-certified vendors without going through a bidding process. At the time, Total Enforcement was the only records management system vendor that had a contract with Dell computers, which was the city’s chosen supplier for the computers.


Dessoye and Capt. Robert Hughes said the system works well for management. Among other things, it gives them the ability to more quickly access reports and it is very effective for tracking crime statistics.


“I put in a certain area and it gives me statistics from that area,” said Hughes. “We use it a lot in the downtown to track crime there.”


Helpful to management


Dessoye largely dismissed the officers’ complaints, saying they’re upset because they don’t want to do the work required to create reports.


“It may not make officers on the street happy because it requires them to do a lot of work,” he said.“It’s a good system for management. It they’re not happy, too bad … They have to work with the equipment we give them.”


The officers who criticized the program said they thought the idea was to streamline tasks.


The system was designed to allow police officers to complete reports from the laptops in their vehicles. Problems with communicating with the server delayed full implementation of that process until this February. Laptops are now in place in 10 cruisers.


Officers still can’t do all reports from the laptops, however, because the system is not connected with the county’s 911 system, which means 911 cannot transmit certain information officers need to the laptops, as it can with other records management software programs, said one officer.


“If we run a vehicle plate, 911 has to fax the information (including the owner and vehicle identification number) to headquarters,” the officer said. “We have to go to headquarters to get the paperwork. That takes us off the street.”


Some positives


The officers said, to be fair, the program does have some good points. For instance, an officer can type in a suspect’s name or an address and learn whether the person had prior charges, or if there had been previous calls to the address.


But they noted other records management systems have those capabilities without the drawbacks presented by Total Enforcement. They questioned why that program was chosen over the far more popular, and less expensive, system known as Alert, produced by Metro Technology Services Inc., of Wayne, Pa.


The city paid $394,665 for the Total Enforcement software package in March, 2010. A breakdown of how that charge was calculated was not immediately available, as the records could not be obtained last week.


That price is significantly higher than what was paid by the the city of York, which purchased the Alert system in 2010 for about $119,000, according to Tony Iannacone, president of Metro Technologies. Alert is one of the most popular records management systems in Pennsylvania, in use by 450 communities, including 36 of the approximately 52 departments in Luzerne County, Iannacone said.


Police chiefs in several area communities raved about the Alert program.


“I love it,” said Frank Mudlock, police chief in Jenkins Township, which has used Alert since 1998. “If you are on the road and need to research a person or incident, you can log on to the computer and review it.”


Alert pre-loaded


Unlike Total Enforcement, Alert comes pre-loaded with all Pennsylvania crime statutes, including the vehicle code. “You search a code and it brings up the charge,” said Mudlock. “Everything is pretty much there.”


Pittston police have used Alert for about 10 years, said Police Chief Bob Powers. “It works really well with the reports we need to do,” he said.“It allows us to track crime … If there is a rash of burglaries on one street, you can send a bulletin out to all officers in the department.”


The Hanover Township Police Department implemented the Alert system in September 2011. Chief Al Walker said officers have been pleased with it. “Our guys are telling me it’s a lot more streamlined,” he said. “They can get reports completed sooner and be back out on the road.”


The Alert system also seems to be more in line with one of the major goals Dessoye stressed in his grant application: to some day be able to electronically access reports from surrounding police departments.


Neither Alert nor any other records management system currently allows departments to share reports among each other — as that would require an interface with the county’s 911 center. The capability is there for that to happen, but only for the departments that share the same records management system.


Dessoye: Alert reviewed


Dessoye said he and other city officials looked at Alert and several other systems, deciding to choose Total Enforcement because it seemed to best fit the city’s needs.


Pressed for specific advantages the program offered, Dessoye offered general statements. “We set up criteria and picked what was best,” he said. “Alert is a good system, but it did not seem to serve our purposes. This system seemed to be a better system and more capable of advancing as we grew.”


McLaughlin noted that, at the time the city was reviewing Total Enforcement, plans were for it to incorporate with a countywide records management system that was being touted by former Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepenak.


In 2007, Skrepenak proposed purchasing the Total Enforcement system for the county at cost of $2.3 million. The plan was to first connect the four largest cities — Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Nanticoke and Pittston police departments — with other communities to follow.


That plan was scrapped sometime in 2009 after it became apparent the county would not be able to convince all municipalities to sign on to the idea, said Fred Rosencrans, data manager at the county 911 center.


Despite that, Wilkes-Barre continued on with its plans to purchase the system.


While Dessoye firmly defended the city’s choice, he said he’s open to discussing police officers’ concerns with the system. A fair evaluation can’t be made until the system is entirely implemented, he said, which will likely be several years from now.


“We examined them and Total Enforcement seemed like the best,” he said. “People sometimes make mistakes. I’m not saying this is a mistake. If we were wrong, we will look at all the data. And if we misjudged, we’ll re-evaluate. I don’t see that until the end of the five-year term.”


 
 
Comments
comments powered by Disqus



Featured Businesses


Poll



Info Minute



Gas Prices

Wilkes-Barre Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.com