Texas: Oversight lacking on cops' faulty software
By Vianna Davila
The release Monday of an anticipated police computer system audit -- and the city's decision to cease use of the software -- revealed a program plagued by thorny management policies and insufficient local control.
The city audit also raised questions about the role played by the two companies who developed the system and controlled the programming language but were exempt from providing the city any documentation about their procedures or technology.
The system was dependent on the company programmers, but they did not sufficiently map out how they developed the program, auditors wrote.
Other problems cited in the report include a lack of city staff to maintain the system, poor password security measures, and minimal time for testing.
The system, called Direct Report Entry, was originally outlined in 1999 as part of a multiprong, $17 million Public Safety Integrated Technology System.
The DRE would allow officers to type their reports into computers rather than write them by hand. The report then could be transmitted electronically throughout the department.
"Any system that expedites the work patrolmen do in the file is welcomed by most officers, if not all officers," SAPD spokesman Gabe Trevino said Monday.
But DRE hadn't even been launched when Police Chief William McManus ordered the audit in April, shortly after he became the city's top cop.
By May, the program had been implemented at two of the department's six substations.
But the DRE system, which cost $824,415, "has not gone as smoothly as expected," the auditor's report said.
Use of the system at the two substations had been stopped for about a month, the report said.
City officials plan to replace the program with a commercial off-the-shelf alternative, according to a memo released by McManus. The city also plans to assess all other aspects of the technology system.
Monday's long-awaited results were not entirely surprising.
"Even before my election over a year ago, I had heard rumblings of problems with this system," District 9 Councilman Kevin Wolff said Monday, shortly after the audit's release.
Speculation on the system's failure intensified more than two weeks ago when the Police Department's information services manager, Mark Kozielski, was fired. The same day, two members of the chief's command staff who oversaw the program were reassigned.
Even before the program was shelved, city officials had signed away much of its control over how the system worked.
In December 2000, the city contracted with the Open Systems Group Inc. to develop the program, said Mark Swann, interim city auditor who conducted the audit. OSG owned the title to the software source code -- the essential programming language that made the system work, Swann said.
The city also did not require OSG to provide any procedural or technological documentation; the company only had to produce the program, Swann said.
The city secured control of the source code only when OSG went bankrupt in 2005. But the city still does not have the most up-to-date copy, the auditors wrote.
The city eventually contracted with the Texas Software Development Center to finish the program development.
But two of the key players at TSDC were former OSG employees who were "primarily involved in the initial development of the DRE system," the auditors wrote.
For its part, SAPD management felt it lacked resources to develop the software, Swann said.
The police chief and city manager were unavailable for comment about the audit Monday.
Issues with the Direct Report Entry system included:
--Lack of city staff to maintain and enhance the system
--Strong dependence on two contract developers
--Insufficient project management practices
--Insufficient testing environment
--Inadequate password security measures
--Incomplete and outdated documentation
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