NYPD computer system can't report on evidence, cash, or other seized property

nypd evidence system broken
A software system intended to revolutionize New York Police Department property and evidence tracking crashes when queried. The Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS), built by Capgemini in 2012, was submitted for an honors award when it was installed. Now, however, PETS can’t help the NYPD keep track of cash held as evidence or seized through civil forfeiture, according to Ars Technica.

New York City lawmakers want greater transparency about cash being held or kept by the NYPD. They were told it would be “nearly impossible” to provide the information. PETS was custom built by Capgemini to work with SAP’s enterprise resource planning software and IBM DB2 database software.

Related: NYPD sides with FBI in the war against unbreakable encryption

The intent was that PETS would replace and improve the department’s traditional paper-based evidence logging and tracking system. PETS was even put up for 2012 Computerworld Honors, an awards program that recognizes “those who use Information Technology to benefit society.” Now, rather than making it easier to track logged property, querying the PETS system can bring down the entire enterprise platform.

Cash and other property held by the NYPD can be kept, or seized, by the department through a process of civil forfeiture if used in the commission of a crime. A car that carries drug dealers to make deliveries or cash used in drug transactions are two examples of property subject to seizure. When property is seized, the burden of proof is on the person accused of a crime to prove the property was not involved with the crime.

Proving that property was not involved in a crime requires attorneys, which can be costly. The New York City Council’s Public Safety Committee is concerned that low-income people who can not afford legal representation could be targeted. The Council is considering a bill that would force the NYPD to provide data on seizures in order to monitor civil forfeiture actions for abuse.

NYPD Assistant Deputy Commissioner Robert Messner told the Committee, however, that “attempts to perform the types of searches envisioned in the bill will lead to system crashes and significant delays during the intake and release process,” Ars Technica quoted from a Village Voice report. “The only way the department could possibly comply with the bill would be a manual count of over half a million invoices each year.”

Ars Technica suggested that more computer consulting services might result in the discovery of a way to retrieve the requested information off-line and not crash the entire PETS system, perhaps with help from IBM Professional Services working with the underlying DB2 database. In the meantime, a system designed to ease evidence logging and report retrieval is only doing one-half of the job and making the other half even tougher.

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