W-B cop software gets lost in place

June 25th, 2015 6:53 am

First Posted: 3/31/2013

One could almost hear the old rubber-legged, red-clawed robot from TV’s “Lost in Space” say it: “That does not compute.”

Of course, when things didn’t make logical sense in the 1960’s sci-fi series, it had no real-world consequences.

That’s not the case in the apparent failure of Wilkes-Barre City to effectively implement a $1.2 million computer program intended to streamline and dramatically improve police work.

As staff writer Terrie Morgan Besecker reported in a page 1A story in Sunday’s Times Leader, the system had been billed as a crime super weapon paradise when the city sought and received grant money in 2009: Desktops at the station and laptops in the cruisers linked to camera systems, 911 and criminal databases around the county and the state; license plate identification software helping cameras spot cars wanted in an investigation and relaying that info to beat cops; live streaming video from crime scenes.

This stuff could rival Bruce Wayne’s Bat Cave gizmos; who wouldn’t want it? Alas, it didn’t live up to the hype — in fact, by accounts from officers using the program, it falls far short.

No need to detail the failure to integrate with city cameras, 911, or other local police departments (many of which opted for a cheaper system they claim works quite well). Tech rarely works out of the box as promised. The big question is more about common sense.

Sunday’s story noted the system came pre-loaded with the New York Criminal Code, not the Keystone State’s Code. If Wilkes-Barre’s officers were patrolling in Poughkeespie, that might be OK. But the Diamond City is 67 miles south of the Empire State border. Binghamton isn’t calling for back-up.

Did the city fail to mention it needed Pennsylvania Codes in the system when the contract was signed? Did the city try to get the vendor to fix the problem before manually entering the right state’s data?

There may be reasonable explanations for such a fiasco, though it seems unlikely. This sounds like an oversight, either deliberate by someone favoring this system, or accidental because someone was distracted by all the bells and whistles and said “oohh, shiny!” when they should have been saying “We need guarantees, please.”

Frankly, when a police computer system bought for $1.2 million by Wilkes-Barre shows up with the New York Criminal Code pre-installed, the robot line that comes to mind is “Danger! Danger Will Robinson …”