San Antonio Express-News (TX)
A Section Page 03A
Chief pulls plug (for now) on broken SAPD computer system
 
 
Publication Date : August 23, 2006
 
Someone recently gave an unexpected order to San Antonio police Sgt. Glenn Michalec.
Get back to work, he was told. The project you've been working on is dead.

One small order. One big thunderclap of news.

For the past three months, Michalec had been in training. That is, someone had been teaching him how to operate an SAPD computer system that's not fully operational.

I'm not exactly sure how that's possible. But almost 200 officers have been trained on the broken system, so the order came as a surprise.

Get back to work?

SAPD could use an extra cop. Murders are up 60 percent over last year, and the department is down hundreds of officers. As violent crime explodes around the city, patrolmen have been pulled from the streets to learn how to work a multimillion-dollar computer system that isn't working. At least not like it's supposed to.

Public safety may have taken a hit. But police bank accounts have received a boost. Officers have collected thousands of dollars in overtime to attend computer-training sessions.

I happened to mention the overtime perk in Friday's column. The same day, Police Chief Bill McManus happened to suspend all computer training. Pure coincidence, of course.

As officers were digesting that bit of news --what, no more cash cow? -- the chief stuck a knife in a sacred cow.

At 5 p.m. Monday, McManus ordered maintenance to the computer system stopped. He refused to approve a $45,000 payment to the software creators.

The troops believe the chief has scrapped the seven-year, $13 million computer project.

McManus says not so fast. It may look like a pulled computer cord dangles from his hand. It may look like he's ready to find another system. But the chief says, no, he's waiting for the audit he ordered months ago.

He has only a draft. No final decision will be made until the auditor's work is complete.

I don't have access to the audit, but I can tell you what it will say about the project's centerpiece, computerized crime reports.

Not working.

An awning has been erected behind police headquarters for officers to get their patrol car laptops serviced.

An officer once spotted 15 or 16 squad cars, backed up in line for more than one hour.

"That's a whole patrol shift," the officer says. "That's a significant impact on service to the community."

Let's see. The city manager wants to hire another 150 officers over two years. The mayor says public safety is the city's top priority. Homicide victims are turning up all over the city.

And police are waiting in line for computer service, or they're attending worthless computer classes and collecting overtime.

"Here we are clamoring for more police," another officer says, "and then we take people and put them on special projects that don't work."

Some time ago, SAPD sent a cop to Dallas to check out the company working on its computer system.

One officer reports pictures were taken. Captured on film was an office with a desk and a chair. Nothing else.

The company, Texas Software Development Center, does exist. It has completed some work for SAPD. But the project, after all these years, looks to lots of officers like so many loose wires.

The new chief stepped into this high-tech, financial mess in April. Four months later, McManus doesn't like what he sees.

Only a couple of people, the chief tells friends, know the ins and outs of the still-in-progress, custom computer system.

What if one or both of them die? The chief has posed that very question to colleagues.

McManus insists he has not killed the computer project. His troops believe otherwise.

The chief, after all, stopped computer training. He refused to authorize a $45,000 payment. On his desk is a draft of the audit. And in his hand is the plug to a $13 million disaster.

If anyone believes he'll stick it back in, please call. I'd like to make a little wager.

To contact Ken Rodriguez,

call (210) 250-3369 or e-mail

krodriguez@express-news.net.

His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.