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Audit finds OPD lost nearly $2 million on failed technology projects

on August 2, 2012

The Oakland Police Department has announced plans to adjust its operations and hire a full-time Information Technology manager after a recent audit of its technology department found that the city spent nearly $2 million on failed policing information technology projects with at least three Bay Area start-ups that have since gone out of business.

In the Police Technology Audit report released Wednesday, barely a week after the police department’s radio system failed during President Obama’s campaign visit, Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby said the department had spent at least $1.87 million on equipment it never used. The report covered financial years 2006-2007 through 2010-11, a period during which Oakland has laid off more than 200 police officers, citing funding shortages.

“The audit showed that OPD did not thoroughly evaluate Oakland’s technology needs, such as comprehensively identifying services, hardware, and software or the reliability of vendors,” Ruby wrote. “This lack of knowledge of its own systems is unacceptable.”

Speaking at a press conference held at the Oakland Police Department’s Eastmont Substation on Tuesday, OPD Chief Howard Jordan said the police force would hire an information technology manager to help maintain policing technology infrastructure and shop for new information technology systems, among other changes, to make the city’s procurement of technology more cost effective.  

“The report was very thorough and we have every intention of looking at every recommendation and complying with the recommendations,” Jordan said. “Police officers aren’t really that technical. We will hire IT staff and project managers to advise us.”

At the center of the report’s findings were four policing technology systems—Shotspotter, E-Citation, Evalis and ICVMS—all of which were procured at a total cost of $1.87 million. The audit found that many of these services were underutilized or never used because the technologies’ manufacturers went out of business.

Shotspotter, procured at a cost of $488,347, is used to detect gunfire and sends alerts to dispatchers within 10-15 seconds. The audit found that this system, supported by just one computer with no dispatcher manning it, sometimes displayed alerts from noise recording unrelated to gunshots and was barely used by officers for investigation. The audit concluded that the system was underutilized.

The audit also stated that E-Citation, a system that allows officers to make electronic citations and send them directly to courts from the field, cost the city $81,866.  The system was never used, according to the audit’s findings, and its maker went out of business.

Evalis, a system designed to identify unethical or unprofessional conduct by police officers, was procured at a cost of $65,000 in 2007. It was never used, the audit stated. The system’s maker, CRISNet, was bought by Motorolla, which demanded higher maintenance fees, forcing the department to create its own system, the Internal Personnel Assessment System (I-PAS).

The report also found that in 2007 the department spent $1.2 million on the Internal Car Video Management System (ICVMS), an on-board video recording system designed to record officer interactions with citizens. The maker of this system went out of business, and the system was never used, the audit concluded.

More recently, the audit found, in December 2011, the police department spent $37,446 on the Systems Applications and Products (SAP), a system that allows officers to obtain data from different databases during policing operations. This system is intended to replace the department’s current system, but the auditor found that the department has not yet started using it, citing funding shortages.

“Due to lack of proper budgeting, planning and communication for the SAP system, OPD purchased a system that it has not used for more than a year and cannot be used until OPD allocates more funding for the system,” the report stated. For now, the department continues to use its former system, which is out of warranty, while the maker of the SAP system has asked for $60,000 more to complete the project, according to the report.

According to the report, no performance bonds had been signed with any of the startups providing these technology systems to the department, meaning that the city could not get refunds for the technology systems when their makers folded, resulting in a loss for the city. The report concluded that the force did not have a long-term strategic technology plan, nor a comprehensive inventory of its own systems and infrastructure.

While largely agreeing with the findings of the report, Jordan said the report contained some factual errors and that the OPD had modified some of the failed systems to meet the daily policing needs of the force. Jordan said the Shotspotter system had been modified to function independently of the single computer monitor, allowing officers deployed in the field to receive incident alerts using on-board computers in their service vehicles.

“The audit report may have been true, but things have changed since then,” Jordan said. “We now have Shotspotters in our patrol cars. Many of our patrol cars now have the ability to receive the information directly.”

“It is one of the main tools that OPD uses to respond to the more than 624,000 calls for service we receive every year,” Jordan said. “OPD should be commended for its use of this technology because it has been very successful as of today.”

He also pointed out that the OPD has replaced  ICVMS with self-recording video cameras that officers carry on their bodies rather than in service vehicles.

Jordan said that it can be difficult for the police to negotiate performance bonds with technology contractors. “The auditor states OPD did not secure a performance bond for the E-Citation contract. This has always been an option, but proves difficult when dealing with small, privately-owned companies who target the public safety market,” Jordan said.

The audit report came amid criticism of the OPD’s radio system failure during President Obama’s visit to Oakland. Oakland’s $18 million police radio system, which is not discussed in the report, has been plagued by problems in the past, often leaving officers in “dead zones” or failing altogether.

Ruby recommended that the department periodically evaluate all of its technology systems to ensure that it is getting value for the money spent and to obtain performance bonds for all new technology contracts, ensuring that vendors take full responsibility for their products and guarantee a refund in case the vendor goes out of business. The auditor also advised the department to approach the Office of the City Attorney and discuss ways in which they can recover the $65,000 spent on the Evalis system.

Jordan said the department would be putting out ads in the coming weeks to hire a dedicated IT manager, who will serve as the department’s internal IT advisor, collaborating with officers on what they want a system to do before the department engages vendors.

“Any time you spend public money, you have to be very frugal with it,” Jordan said. “We accept that there have been mistakes and we learn a lot from that. That money is enough to hire 20 more cops for a resource-strapped city that we are. We are taking steps to avoid similar problems.”

1 Comment

  1. […] Read the rest of the story by Tawanda Kanhema at Oakland North. […]

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