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NYPD Confused About How Their Evidence Tracking System is Backed Up

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The New York City Police Department is in the middle of a legal battle where they are being asked to show how they track money that police pick up during cash forfeitures.  On October 17, an attorney for the city told a judge that part of the reason that the NYPD can’t comply with this request is that the department’s evidence database doesn’t have a backup.  If the database servers that power the NYPD’s Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS) were to fail, all the data on stored evidence would simply disappear.  Huh?  How is that possible?  Even Supreme Court judge Arlene Bluth thinks this is ridiculous and responded repeatedly by saying “that’s insane”.

The NYPD seizes approximately $6 million in cash and property every year. It was estimated that as of 2013, the NYPD was carrying a balance of $68 million in cash seized.  But the NYPD is saying that they don’t have the technical capability to pull an audit report from its forfeiture database because the system wasn’t designed to do that.  I repeat – huh?  The Bronx Defenders are suing for access to the data based on information from Robert Pesner, former chief enterprise architect for New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.  Presner told the court:

“Based on the information I have reviewed about the technical specifications of PETS’s hardware and software, it is my opinion that it is technologically feasible to retrieve much of the data sought from PETS by running queries directly on the underlying [IBM] DB2 database.”

So it can be done? Later on, in the week, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis made it clear that PETS itself is backed up.  Stating:

“Contrary to some published reports suggesting that NYPD does not electronically back up the data in its Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS), all such data is backed up continuously in multiple data centers”.

Is that what they told the judge?  Davis didn’t explain how this connected with the statements in court that indicated there were no backups – specifically related to cash forfeiture data.  Other than that data residing in a separate system from PETS entirely.

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The system was installed by Capgemini under a $25.5 million contract between 2009 and 2012.  That seems like an awful lot of money to spend and not get something as simple as a backup, don’t you think?  Capgemini is no longer the contractor supporting PETS, so maybe the Bronx Defenders are onto something here.

What should be pointed out is that Davis’ statement appears to combine the idea of NYPD’s business continuity plan with the notion of “backups”.  The PETS system is replicated across multiple NYPD data centers, but all copies of the system are in active use. That would mean that if something were to corrupt the data in the system, or if there was a local failure at one of the data centers, some data would likely be lost. The PETS front-end is a Web interface into the SAP ERP system PETS is based on.

It doesn’t sound like the NYPD is on the same page about this issue.  It also sounds like they’re trying to cover something up. Doesn’t it?  $68 million is a huge amount of money to just be “lying” around, and an even larger number not to be tracked.  Perhaps the lawsuit will be blocked, but if not it will be interesting to find out how much money is there and how they will track this information in the future.