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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two Years In, Portland's Emergency Dispatch Software Still Spurs Complaints

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, Jun 27, 2013 at 9:44 AM

As the city gets set to pay nearly $7 million for a new police records system from Canada-based Versaterm, the area's police and firefighters continue to experience headaches with dispatch software purchased from the company more than two years ago.

According to documents obtained by the Mercury via records request, the area's public safety workers have logged more than 100 complaints about Versaterm's computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software in the last year. While it's true that's a relative trickle compared to the hundreds of complaints that flooded in shortly after the software's April 2011 launch, records indicate the reported issues are occasionally serious—rating a "high" priority—and still steady.

Cops and firefighters rely on the software for real-time information on emergency calls while they're in their vehicles. The mere operation of the "mobile data terminals" (laptops, basically) can be precarious—certainly more complex and involved than talking on your phone or reading a text while driving—so it's important the computer screens are clear and easy to use.

The complaint records bear out the lingering concerns of the Portland Police Association, the city's rank-and-file police union.

"We had many bugs and problems that had to be worked out and still have to be worked out," union President Daryl Turner told the Mercury recently. "It's still not what they promised it would be."

The union had enough problems with the new CAD system it eventually filed a grievance, though that was at least partly based on concerns cops would be unduly surveilled with the help of the software. Area police departments, who use Portland's dispatch system, also nearly mutinied after the software came online, warning they might refuse to pay for the service.

As we reported last week, Portland's now about to enter into another contract with Versaterm, this time to replace Portland's crash-prone police records system. On June 12, city council okayed a $6.6 million contract with Versaterm for software and set-up. That doesn't include new hardware that the system will require. In total, project managers anticipate the new records system will cost more-than $12 million—nearly double early estimates.

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