WA - Things picking up at crime agency

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LESA: Computer glitches fixed, more personnel hired in troubled support operation

Paula Lavigne Sullivan; The News Tribune

Technical problems are getting fixed and staff morale is starting to improve at the joint county-city 911 and crime records agency that spent most of last year mired in controversy.

There are still glitches in the new computer database that, among other things, should give police officers, sheriff's deputies, prosecutors and others easy access to criminal background information maintained by the Law Enforcement Support Agency.

But agency officials say the bugs should be worked out soon, thanks to an extra $1.5 million in funding for the computer system known as the Law Enforcement Activity and Data System 2000, or LEADS 2000.

The latest relief came Tuesday, when the Pierce County Council voted to declare its "intent to approve" $450,000 for the agency in its 2002 budget. The council is scheduled to vote in May on an additional $300,000 for the agency in its current budget. LESA also has received $750,000 from the City of Tacoma for the LEADS 2000 "Reboot" project.

LEADS 2000, which already has cost about $5 million, was supposed to come online in January 2000 as part of the agency's Y2K preparations. It was designed to provide fast access to information and to give police officers the ability to file reports and do research using laptop computers in their cruisers.

But errors in the transition from the old system to LEADS 2000 left some users unable to get correct information on criminal backgrounds or outstanding warrants.

For the past year, public safety officials have said that problems getting that information could be endangering officers, exposing the county to lawsuits and causing judges to leave out previous convictions when deciding a current sentence.

The agency's director, Bob Van Gieson, retired last fall in the midst of the computer controversy. Former Sheriff Mark French stepped in as temporary director just weeks before the agency was scheduled to go before both the county and city to ask for more money.

French didn't get everything the agency asked for, but he did get enough money and support to hire more people and put together a timetable to find a permanent director.

French plans to leave at the end of June. That's about the same time the agency should have its criminal history database fixed, says Mark Knutson, assistant director of information technology.

When Knutson, one of French's new hires, joined the department in January, there was only one person to work on computer applications. Since then, he's been able to hire five more people.

New hires have helped other departments as well, including the 911 communications center where employees complained about frequent staff turnover and shortages that forced them to work double shifts and overtime. Some said they were so overworked that not all 911 calls coming in were answered as fast as they should have been.

Now the department has several trainees and could be expecting more. Dispatcher Michelle Woodrow, who is training one of the new hires, said the additional staff has improved morale.

She credits French with other changes in the departments that have made people feel better about working there. One of those changes was to involve employees in the hiring of the agency's new director.

"The general overall feeling at this point is that things are looking up for us," Woodrow said. "I really like this approach with the new director. It's done a lot for our spirit and our morale."

While the conditions within the agency improve, the people who use LESA's services are also noticing a change. The agency has been able to move ahead in some areas, most notably with the installation of laptops in select Tacoma police and Pierce County sheriff's cruisers.

"The (sheriff's) department has seen an improvement in LESA's services," Sheriff Paul Pastor said. "We look forward to an even stronger improvement as key components come online."


-- Doris (nocents@bellsouth.net), April 19, 2001


That's two ;-

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), April 19, 2001.

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