Union blasts 9-1-1 system
Police say faulty dispatch program was not property tested
The union representing rank-and-file Portland police officers is demanding that persistent, serious problems with the new 9-1-1 dispatch system be fixed.
In a letter sent to City Hall and police officials on Wednesday, Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner said there were 1,000 defects with the system when it was activated on April 17. Turner said many of the problems put police officers and the public at risk, but have not been fixed after more than two months.
'Officers still have to pull over to read the computer screens in their cars. This slows their response times and puts the public at risk,' Turner told the Tribune.
Turner's letter faults the city for not extensively testing the system in the field before activating it to identify potential problems before activating it - a complaint confirmed by a number of active-duty officers who spoke to the Tribune on a confidential basis.
The letter also questions the city's reasons for replacing the previous 9-1-1 call system. It faults the city for retaining the same consulting firm to assess the previous system, recommend a replacement system and oversee its installation. The letter suggests Portland's ieSolutions, the consulting firm, has a financial incentive to recommend a new system.
On its website, ieSolutions writes that it was retained by the city in November 2006 to recommend a replacement strategy for the 9-1-1 system. The company also was asked to lead the effort to 'envision' a new system one year later. It was hired in January 2009 to manage the implementation process.
Known as a computer-assisted dispatch system, the regional 9-1-1 network is operated by the city Bureau of Emergency Communication but serves all law enforcement agencies, fire departments and ambulance companies in Multnomah County, including the Port of Portland's police department.
After the replacement system was activated, BOEC received 436 complaints in the first month, according to a 21-page internal report obtained by the Portland Tribune. The report pointed out that 134 of the 'issues' were fixed by mid-May, leaving more than 300 unresolved.
A complex system
BOEC began operating a CAD system in 1983. According to veteran BOEC and police employees, it had similar problems when it was activated, but was fixed and reprogrammed to meet specific needs of each jurisdiction. The result was a highly customized system that everyone liked.
Worried about the age and complexity of the system, Portland officials began looking in 2005 for a replacement. At that time, Commissioner Randy Leonard was overseeing BOEC. Mayor Sam Adams transferred BOEC to newly elected Commissioner Amanda Fritz in January 2009. By then, Versaterm, a Canadian company, had been selected to provide the replacement system, which was already being installed at an estimated cost of $14.5 million.
Some Portland police say they received only a few hours of training in their cars before the system was activated, far less than needed to identify all potential problems.
Fritz and Leonard both defend the operation of the replacement system. After complaints surfaced about the system, Fritz wrote: 'This is one complex city of Portland computer project that was planned and implemented as close to perfectly as is humanly possible.'
Leonard blames the criticism on 'a culture of complaint' within the police bureau, adding, 'Having a hissy fit doesn't help.'
Leonard also defends ieSolutions' multiple roles in the project. He says it is not uncommon for a single consultant to perform a range of duties on such a large undertaking. Leonard notes than an independent company was hired to do quality assurance reports during much of the replacement 9-1-1 system selection and installation process. The company, Cit-Com Inc., filed its first report in November 2008.
Although the Portland Police Association letter has not been released, complaints have come from other agencies, including BOEC itself. According to the internal report, 330 complaints were lodged by the bureau's dispatchers.
In addition, complaints have also been made by members of the BOEC User Board, a group formed in 1983 to represent agencies that depend on the system. It is led by Fairview Police Chief Ken Johnson, who says the system has serious safety-related problems.
The user board met for the first time after the system was activated on May 19. That was when it received the 21-page internal report listing the 436 complaints and 103 fixes. The board is scheduled to meet again on July 7, when the status of the system is expected to be a top priority at the next meeting.