TPD working through flawed mobile system
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Sunday, June 03, 2012
6/03/12 at 7:04 AM
Document: Read all the emailed complaints about Tulsa Police Department's in-car computer and video system.
After three years and about $4 million, the Tulsa Police Department has a working but seriously flawed mobile computer system for its police cars that has left officers frustrated about safety concerns, a Tulsa World investigation has found.
The problematic project started in 2009 with contracts to buy Panasonic technology and Sprint Internet broadband. Their products haven't worked properly for the needs of more than 250 police cars in service, according to emails and other records reviewed by the World.
Police and city officials have made continuous efforts to get the computers working at a standard to meet police needs, including changes to software and negotiations to make hardware changes, Police Chief Chuck Jordan said.
The computers, as purchased, simply can't handle the software police need to do their jobs, reports show. Tests conducted by city officials have shown the broadband Sprint network fails at numerous locations across the city and runs slower in Tulsa than other tested networks.
"We run out from lunch or admin duty at the (division) and find out we're driving code to a hot call with no info, (can't) reconnect while driving, and arrive without required safety info. This is huge, and it happens a lot," an officer wrote in December 2010 on a private TPD forum, where officers logged more than 100 complaints.
The World reviewed about 8,000 emails and documents obtained through an Open Records Act request and interviewed numerous officers and other city officials regarding the computer project. The emails show problems officials have faced with the project since 2009, as well as possible conflicts of interest.
Panasonic and Sprint officials organized travel plans and booked hotel rooms for city officials to attend conferences where manufacturers hosted parties, dinners and presentations.
As patrol officers complained about the system, project managers continued to spend hundreds of thousands more on it, despite its problems, records show.
At the same time, at least one officer in charge of selecting the products was negotiating with Panasonic and Sprint employees for payment to attend a public safety conference where the companies pitched their products, records show.
Currently, more than 250 of about 575 Tulsa police vehicles are outfitted with the Panasonic U1 computers, officials confirmed. The Panasonic U1 computer is a tablet-style computer that is meant to be mobile while still offering the capabilities of a laptop, according to product advertisements.
When one of those 250 officers with a U1 starts a shift, he can expect to wait about seven minutes for the computer to boot up, emails show. That wait time is down from at least 15 minutes about a year ago.
The city's information technology staff has worked to improve the system while putting other projects on hold, the emails show.
In addition to the cost of purchasing the system, city IT and police staff have spent hundreds of hours working to optimize the computers, according to emails.
"I am disappointed that we had to use IT resources as well as police resources to fix this problem, but I think in the situation we were in, we had no choice," Jordan said.
The computer issues aren't the only challenge. Until recently, an officer could expect to hit one of at least 25 dead spots around town in Sprint's network. The dead spots are unrelated to problems with the Panasonic computer.
Those dead zones have been identified as spots where the computer often drops the Sprint broadband signal and, in some cases, causes officers to lose work on reports they were trying to file.
After city testing of several broadband networks, TPD stopped using Sprint about two weeks ago and moved to Verizon, which police tests show works much better for their system.
Tom Cook, Sprint communications manager for Oklahoma, said he couldn't comment on the police network testing but said the company continues to work to improve its products.
"We're making great strides on our network improvements, and we have some great things on the horizon," Cook said.
The emails show officers reported avoiding broadband Internet dead spots by driving around the area. Officers have complained of sometimes taking up to 25 minutes to reboot a computer after hitting a dead spot, but work on the project has gotten reboot times down to about seven minutes. The city would not release a list of the dead spot locations, citing public safety concerns.
When an officer lost a signal, he lost access to several databases, including NCIC records and the local Tulsa police warrants database. The National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, is a database that allows police to have access to criminal records across the nation. Police use those databases during traffic stops, for example, to know if the driver could be a criminal before the officer approaches a vehicle.
When the computer is completely booted and the network is operational, the system has difficulty running multiple police programs at once, including the resource-sapping video camera software, records show.
In 2010, the city settled a 16-year-old federal class-action lawsuit between black police officers and the city of Tulsa. As part of the settlement, the city agreed to install video cameras in all police cars.
However, only about 40 video cameras were installed before officials put that part of the project on hold due to related technical problems.
Fixing the problems
Jordan has become personally involved with the project, speaking with the president of Panasonic Solutions Co. in late 2011 at a national police conference in Chicago, records show.
Jordan and PSC President Rance Poehler discussed a deal that included trading the unused U1 computers for laptops. The laptops would be capable of meeting police needs, according to emails.
Police have accepted the offer to trade more than 140 unused U1 computers for the laptops, Jordan said. The offer did not include returning 250 U1 computers installed in police cars that will remain several more years as police and city staff work to make them acceptable to officer needs, Jordan said.
"We haven't lost a dime," Jordan said. "Do we have everything we want that's optimal? No, we don't."
In the future, there will be much more oversight of police equipment purchases, Jordan said.
"We will never do that again. I wasn't here when this happened," Jordan said, referring to the purchases made prior to his arrival as police chief. "It won't happen again like this. We will know what we're going to get. We will know what is acceptable for our troops."
The Panasonic video camera works as intended on the more-powerful laptops police are trying to get in exchange, Jordan said.
An email in November 2009 from a Panasonic sales manager to city project managers said Panasonic had tested the video camera on the problematic computers and that it "passed the testing."
The city chose Insight Public Sector, with headquarters in Illinois, to be the video camera vendor. Insight had the lowest bid to provide the video camera, a Panasonic Arbitrator 360, while other vendors pitched other in-car camera systems that cost less, according to city bidding records.
After the cameras were installed, it became apparent the video system could not run on the U1 computer along with other vital police programs.
At least one officer, project manager Cpl. Will Dalsing, talked with Sprint and Panasonic about paying for his travel to a public safety conference in Atlantic City in May 2011, records show.
Additionally, Dalsing and city IT operations manager Matt Parker organized and participated in a video and photo shoot in 2010 that was used after city approval as an advertisement for Sprint and Panasonic - the brands Tulsa chose for the new computer systems.
In 2009, police chose Sprint as the company to provide broadband Internet service to police cars.
A city purchasing official said the city went with an existing Sprint contract at a cost of almost $300,000 per year if outfitted on all 575 police vehicles in accordance with the project's plans.
Project managers chose Sprint despite 2009 bids from Sprint, AT&T and Verizon in which Sprint was not the cheapest, costing about 10 percent more than AT&T's bid, according to the bid documents.
Verizon was about 2 percent more expensive than Sprint.
Months later in 2009, the city awarded a contract worth about $3.5 million to buy Panasonic computers and accessories - though the city only purchased about 400 of the planned 575 units, emails show.
In 2010, the city awarded a contract worth about $4 million to buy Panasonic video cameras to install alongside the Panasonic computers. An ethics complaint about the Panasonic and Sprint advertisement led to an internal investigation. Police have not revealed whether they've reached any conclusions from the investigation.
Tulsa Police Capt. Jonathan Brooks confirmed the TPD internal investigation is ongoing.
Records show Dalsing was taken off the project and transferred in January to a new department after developing the project for several years. City officials also confirmed Parker was taken off the project but remains working for the city of Tulsa information technology department.
In April 2011, Sprint and Panasonic officials offered Dalsing airfare, a hotel stay and transportation for a trip to Atlantic City, N.J., to attend the New Jersey Emergency Preparedness Conference, according to emails. The conference is billed as the mid-Atlantic's largest conference for emergency preparedness, according to the organization's website.
Emails show Dalsing rejected their initial offer without an additional payment or expenses for another person.
"With no offer of remuneration or the airfare for my companion, I cannot justify my time taken off or the disruption of my work appointments," Dalsing said. "I have already given two days to the production of a video for Panasonic Sprint. Though I would enjoy this trip, more must be offered for my time."
The series of emails does not show whether an offer was accepted.
A statement from Panasonic officials said it would not be appropriate for them to comment while the matter is under investigation.
In a statement, the company said it was confident that employee conduct "was consistent with Panasonic's Code of Conduct and industry practice," according to the statement.
The three contracts were signed before the offer to go to the Atlantic City conference, though the city of Tulsa was working within the ongoing contracts with Sprint and Panasonic.
A city of Tulsa ethics ordinance states it is an offense for any city official, officer or employee to solicit or accept a gift worth more than $35 from any "person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, conducting activities regulated by the city official's work or duties, or whose interests may be affected by the performance or non-performance of such work or duties."
Jessica E. Rainey, senior assistant city attorney, said records show Dalsing never requested payment, reimbursement or approval for any travel regarding the in-car computer and video projects through the city.
Emails appear to show Dalsing and Parker attended several conferences regarding the project, including a "Panasonic user group" in September 2010 at a Hyatt Regency in Dallas.
Hotel reservation confirmations sent to Dalsing by Panasonic sales representative Karin Iffrig show a reservation at a Dallas Hyatt Regency for Dalsing and Tulsa Police Cpl. Dan Ward. City officials were unable to provide any travel records indicating the city paid for the hotel rooms booked by Panasonic officials.
The one-night reservations were reserved on a credit card with a price of $179 per room, according to the email.
Additionally, records show Iffrig invited Dalsing and the other attendees to Five Sixty, Wolfgang Puck's Dallas restaurant.
Dalsing and Parker could not be reached for comment.
In November 2011, a year after the Dallas conference and two years after the computer project began, one officer summed up the frustration of many in a comment left on the department's internal forum:
"The problems with the U1 came to the attention and realization of management-level decision makers after we had purchased several hundred of the units, many still yet to be installed. It is unfortunate that the only person above sergeant on this department that appeared ready to take decisive action on this was the Chief after he experienced many of the issues discussed here."
A review of the project in which the Tulsa Police Department purchased computer equipment for vehicles. The timeline is based on internal emails and documents related to the purchase of the equipment and services:
June 2009: City issues an invitation for bids on broadband Internet for Tulsa police vehicles. Police opt to use Sprint through an existing state contract.
July 2009: Emails show Cpl. Will Dalsing and other project managers decided on a "Panasonic standard" for their vehicles.
October 2009: City issues an invitation for bids from vendors to price Panasonic computers.
November 2009: Panasonic officials tell Dalsing the Panasonic's video camera works on the Panasonic computers TPD is planning to buy.
December 2009: City officials award the bid worth about $3.5 million to a vendor to purchase Panasonic computers and other accessories. Currently, at least $2.7 million has been paid to the vendor.
June 2010: City issues an invitation for bids from vendors to price in-car video camera systems. Project managers choose the vendor who pitched Panasonic's Arbitrator 360 video camera.
2011: As the computer and video system are installed into more police vehicles, officer complaints increase about problems related to the operation of the computer.
April 2011: Dalsing negotiates with Panasonic and Sprint staff for payment to attend an Atlantic City, N.J., conference Sprint is sponsoring. (Sprint had been providing the broadband Internet service for TPD police cruisers.) Emails don't show whether Dalsing attended.
Fall 2011: Emails from various staff managers in the city and police department begin to criticize the system and convey their problems to TPD leaders.
October 2011: Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan, in Chicago during a national police conference, meets with the president of Panasonic's sales arm, Rance Poehler, to discuss returning U1 computers for more-powerful laptops.
December 2011: Jordan receives an offer from Panasonic to return unused U1 computers in exchange for more powerful laptops and future purchases within the existing contract. TPD would not confirm whether the offer was accepted or discuss the financial impact.
January 2012: City of Tulsa officials confirm internal investigation under way into ethics complaints about the project.
To date: TPD has spent about $4 million on contracts and agreements worth more than $8 million on the in-car computer and video system hardware and broadband Internet, purchasing records show. At least $1 million of those expenditures have been spent since the project's testing phase and officer complaints revealed recurring problems, records show.
Through an open records request, the World obtained a list of officer complaints from TPD's internal website. The city redacted the officers' names. The following are excerpts from the comments:
- "The U1 results in about one hour per day average in getting it to run. Afternoon run time via Sprint? not a chance with so many drops. Every day you have to spend time to get it to stay working," an officer said.
- "It is embarrassingly slow. I tried to google an address for a citizen, and they got tired of waiting for it to run and left."
- "My monitor keeps shutting (itself) off as I drive. Gosh I sure wish I could see the exact address of where I'm going and the suspect description again!"
- "All in all, I feel the U1 is a great system but could use a little more tweaking and some simple upgrades (like speed). But personally, I'm a fan of it and do not want my old (computer) back."
- An officer said his iPhone "works better and faster than the U1. I find that I am using it to do what the U1 was touted to do."
- "Regularly, the U1 locks up if multiple apps are running. Seems like a memory issue. Also, I am grateful for the ability to access the internet, however it is unbearably slow."
- "On a 10 point scale I would give the U1 around a 3, at least the U1 that we're using. I don't think it's just me, I hear nothing but complaints about U1 users."
- "The concept of the U1 was excellent. However, the performance of the unit is dismal."
- "The one time I needed this computer tonight it would not work. ... Very frustrating!!!!"
Original Print Headline: TPD working through tech flaws
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367
The Panasonic U1 hasn't worked properly for the needs of police officers. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Project manager Cpl. Will Dalsing holds up one of the netbooks TPD bought to install in its patrol cars. Dalsing talked to Sprint and Panasonic about paying for his travel to a public safety conference in Atlantic City in May 2011, records show. Additionally, Dalsing and IT operations manager Matt Parker organized and participated in an advertisement for Sprint and Panasonic, the brands chosen for the new systems. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World file