Conversations got tense Wednesday evening as the City Council questioned Carlos Zambrano, director of the city’s Management Information Services (MIS), during his quarterly report.
The issue was in regards to computer systems used by the Warwick Police Department to run plates and identification on individuals who have been pulled over or are otherwise being investigated, which Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla reported go down and need to be rebooted often, per complaints he had received from constituents.
“My understanding is that laptops are getting rebooted at least three times a week, and that’s based on communications that are picked up on scanners,” Merolla said.
Zambrano, apparently taken aback by this affront, said that the issue has been known about for a long time and stems from a combination of old technology and a complex system that can freeze if too many people are utilizing it at once or if the system is not properly shut down. He said that the issue could be quickly corrected at headquarters remotely by simply restarting the system.
However, Merolla did not take kindly to Zambrano’s body language or answer.
“I just don’t appreciate how it’s like the Inquisition every time you come before the council,” he said. “Your eyebrows go up like I’m crazy [and] I don’t know what I’m talking about and I have to waste 15 minutes cross examining people and call officers out to figure out why their computer screens are down, or why things have to reboot.”
“God forbid that hits at the wrong time where somebody is trying to get information pulling over a vehicle or whatever it is, and they don’t realize the vehicle they pulled over – they’re in a dangerous situation and they don’t have the information they need, somebody gets shot or somebody else gets hurt – it’s not acceptable,” Merolla continued.
Zambrano said that MIS has been working with the police department to update the system and that, in the two years that he has been in charge of the department, funding towards replacing computer systems has increased significantly.
“Over the two years I have tried to help the police department get a bigger budget to replace those computers,” he said. “I’m not trying to say anything bad but we’re in the process of getting those computers fixed and updated. Those computers are very expensive and we only have a certain amount of money to replace X amount of computers a year, so if some computers are breaking, those computers are probably five to seven years old. We’re trying our best between the police department and MIS.”
Zambrano, after continued prodding by the council, said that perhaps the city should raise taxes if they wanted computers to be updated at a faster rate, which did not go over well.
“I think what the councilman is trying to bring out is we don’t want to put our officers or the general public in harm’s way for some malfunction,” council president Joseph Solomon said. “Our police officers are on the front line. Their lives are on the line and they protect the people in the city. So if the money needs to be found, it can be found, but it’s not by raising taxes. Don’t ever play that card with this council again.”
Major Brad Connor of the Warwick Police Department said on Monday that the “glitch” in the system is sporadic – that it can happen three times in one day and then not happen for months at a time. He concurred that MIS has been working with the police on fixing the issue, but that it sometimes stems from a local issue and can sometimes stem from an issue with the statewide system itself.
More importantly, Connor stressed that the city’s police are not at risk of being put in harm’s way by the computer system going down in the middle of a call or after pulling someone over.
“If we were concerned about this and we didn’t think MIS was doing their job, I would be the first going to the mayor or the council about this,” Connor said. “It’s more of an annoyance than anything. We operated without laptops in our cruisers for a long time.”
Connor added that, in addition to two separate radio systems that can be used to call into dispatch to run information checks in the event the computers go down, each officer on the street has a cell phone to communicate if all three prior forms of communication, for some reason, aren’t working.
Major Connor said that funding towards technology within the department had increased from $28,000 in FY17 to $80,000 in FY18.