The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Thursday, March 22, 2007

In-Car Police Computers Remain Inoperative

In the Ombudsman’s report to City Council presented on February 20, 2007, one of the biggest areas of concern was the fact the in-car police computers did not work. This means that police cars could not know where each other were at all times. It also inhibits the ability and ease of checking license plates.

As Davis Police Ombudsman Robert Aaronson wrote:
As I understand it, a substantial number of the in-car computers remain unreliable and cannot be depended upon to remain in contact with dispatch. This is a serious officer safety issue. It adversely impacts Department morale and undermines the quality of service the Department can provide to the community. Given the long period (many months) that this has remained unresolved, it is high time it was fixed once and for all.
And in fact these computers have never worked and to this day continue to not work. The primary problem with them seems to be hardware-software compatibility. The software is newer than the hardware and causes the hardware to crash.

This mirrors the problem of in-car cameras, which for months were not working and so the officers were not getting reliable recordings of an on-scene encounters. However at last month’s City Council Meeting Aaronson told council:
“It's been my view all along that the in-car computers are more critical than the in-car cameras."
The safety issues involving the officers and the convenience of having readily accessible information aside there are several very concerning factors about this inability to get this technology to work.

The first and most obvious one is that this is hardly re-inventing the wheel. We could likely go across the country and find almost every police department and almost every police vehicle with computers in the vehicle. And I think it is safe to say that in almost every police department with in-car computers, the computers are operational. They work. This is not rocket science. There is no logical technical reason that you cannot make computers in a police vehicle work.

That leads us to the second problem. This is not an unknown problem. Mr. Aaronson has mentioned it in public several times. And he mentions it frequently in conversation. That means not only does the police department know but the city manager’s office knows and city staff knows. Perhaps I am naïve about how all of this stuff works, but I would think this would not be a difficult problem to resolve.

In part this gets at Mr. Aaronson’s concern about leadership within the department:
The second [problem], based on many discussions with Department members, is the need for quality leadership and clear supervision that uniformly holds people accountable. Without intending to disrespect the hard work of current and former supervisors and administrators, it does appear that the turnover in staff, and particularly in chiefs, has undermined the organization’s supervisory chain of command, its vision and its morale.
And while in many ways this clearly is a police leadership problem and it exemplifies the concerns that Mr. Aaronson has about leadership. It is also broader than a police problem. It is a city problem. Mr. Aaronson came before City Council last month. Each of the five city council members are aware of this problem as is city staff again, from the City Manager on down.

So why is this problem not solved? How much money will this problem cost the city in an attempt to resolve? Who is accountable for the failure of these computers to work? Will the City Manager, the Interim Police Chief, and/ or the City Council hold people responsible for this failure? None of these answers are clear, although it appears from the outside that no one will be held responsible for this.

What is clear is that newly hired Police Captain Landy Black both cannot get here fast enough and has his work cut out for him. The department needs a strong leader than can resolve these problems, but again the responsibility here does not end with the Interim Police Chief and that might be a bigger problem in the long run.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting