SAN ANTONIO - Scrap it or save it? Tax payers have shelled out nearly $18.4 million for a police department computer system that's been plagued with problems.
Through open records requests and sources close to this issue, News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters got a hold of emails from officers in the field detailing their computer problems and begging for help. She took those concerns to San Antonio’s Police Chief Bill McManus, asking what could be done to fix the problems.
An officer's job is hard enough. Every day they're pulling over potential criminals or rolling up on dangerous situations. So, having reliable information and a quick response from their computer is essential.
"It slows down everything. It slows down response times. It slows down the work product. So, instead of you taking ten minutes or five minutes to handle something, it's taking you an hour. Which is totally ridiculous,” Mike Helle, San Antonio Police Officers Union (SAPOU) President, exclaimed.
In 2008 San Antonio's Police Department signed on with Denali Solutions, a computer software company that specialized in Automated Field Reporting (AFR).
"AFR allows officers to take the reports in their car, they hit a send button and it goes where it needs to go,” Chief McManus explained.
But that's not the way things have gone down. Since installing Denali in late 2010 the problems have piled up. The Trouble Shooters got a hold of a spreadsheet that keeps a running tab of all the pending issues (see attached document). But our sources also handed over internal emails that talk about things like:
- The system freezing or shutting down in the field
- Too many users on at one time, which resulted in personnel getting booted off the system
- The overall sluggish response time of the system
SAPOU President, Mike Helle, says his guys tried to be patient, but after awhile their safety became a huge concern.
"You certainly don't want to be waiting for minutes or even longer to find out, well, this person in front of me has just murdered an entire family. If I'm looking down at the computer waiting for the return, what is this guy doing,” Helle noted.
Helle also talked about missing reports with News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Mireya Villarreal.
“Oh yea, there was plenty of lost reports. Maybe lost isn't the right word. But they were in cyber space,” Helle said.
“Floating somewhere,” Villarreal asked.
“Yea,” Helle answered. “They were out there and our guys had to work really hard to go in there and relocate those - there was something like 6,000 reports that were out there somewhere."
To complicate the situation even more Denali was bought by another software company called Intergraph about a year ago. The transition didn't go smoothly. In fact, it seemed like things got worse.
A few months ago things finally came to a head and city council members like Leticia Ozuna stepped in to help. She rode along with officers to see for herself what they've been dealing with.
"It's just that day to day that has me very concerned that we have the system that we paid for and that we have police that are able to perform their jobs because they have systems supporting them,” Ozuna told us.
For nearly two years top officials have known about these problems, but haven't been able to find a permanent solution. A little over a week ago San Antonio’s Police Chief and the city’s information technology team met with Intergraph to figure out why all these problems had yet to be addressed. Chief McManus says they discussed all the unresolved issues and came to an agreement.
“Is Intergraph willing to work with you guys at this point without another contract,” Villarreal asked Chief McManus.
He answered, “They have committed to working with us and resolving the issues stated.”
“Do we have to pay them more money to do that,” Villarreal followed up.
“Not to my knowledge,” he added.
McManus says the cost of this system is what's keeping them from just scrapping the whole project. At this point, they have to make it work. But after years of frustrations and anger, he says the bigger problem will be fixing the relationship his leaders have with officers in the field.
“I think it's a matter of time,” McManus said. “I can't walk out there, and any of these other administrators can't walk out there, and say ‘hey don't worry everybody we got it fixed. It's all good’. We can't do that. We've got to show them it is fixable. And they only way to do that is by fixing it."