Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert confirmed Wednesday for the first time that three police software systems the city paid for have never been implemented. Those systems are the same ones named in a recent whistleblower lawsuit as having been paid for and allegedly never finished.
Since September, PublicSource has heard numerous complaints about projects created by a technology firm called B-Three Solutions as well as defenses of the company’s work. But until now, city officials have stopped short of saying if projects described as unfinished in the Feb. 14 lawsuit are actually being used.
In all, the city paid B-Three $335,000 to build those three systems, which are intended to modernize evidence tracking, improve oversight of sensitive criminal investigations and reduce the daily drag of officer paperwork.
The last project, known as the “Daily Activity Sheet,” was fully paid for in late 2015, according to invoices provided by the city. “Evidence Tracking” and “Case Management” were fully paid for in 2013.
“My intent is to get them implemented,” Schubert told PublicSource Wednesday morning. “They’re not at this point.”
In his whistleblower lawsuit, Pittsburgh police officer Souroth Chatterji claims he found that the three systems were unfinished during a review of police technology he’d been assigned to undertake in 2015 by then-Chief Cameron McLay.
Concerns raised by Chatterji in 2015 helped launch an investigation by the FBI, which is no longer open. Two city agencies are currently investigating issues related to the matter. Chatterji claims in his lawsuit that he’s faced retaliation from the city’s deputy director of public safety, Linda Rosato-Barone, who has worked closely with B-Three since the company’s inception in 2006.
B-Three created numerous other systems for the city, including the police bureau’s main computer system known as the Automated Police Reporting System (APRS). Schubert spoke before Pittsburgh City Council Wednesday morning to stress the importance of keeping the system maintained as council considers paying B-Three up to $572,640 to maintain dozens of city systems over the next two years.
Since 2010, the city paid B-Three at least $4 million. Of that, at least $1.7 million has been paid since Mayor Bill Peduto took office in 2014.
Peduto said he wasn’t sure if officers were using the software programs that had been paid for. He deferred questions on the three specific systems to Schubert.
“I have to get an update from [Schubert] as to why. But I don’t have any idea why they’re not,” he said. The mayor meets weekly with Schubert and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, often on Wednesday afternoons.
Schubert didn’t have details Wednesday morning on why systems weren’t implemented, saying only that the Daily Activity Sheet was “stopped” about two years ago by his predecessor Cameron McLay.
“I didn’t really have any involvement in that, so I don’t know exactly why,” Schubert said.
McLay ordered a stop to payments to B-Three around the same time he referred the matter to the FBI in November 2015, though the city continued to regularly cut the company checks.
“The freeze was on expenditures to B-Three until that inquiry was completed,” McLay said today.
McLay said that he’d created working groups to tackle police technology issues, including how to automate the Daily Activity Sheet without B-Three.
“We were exploring options trying to get to the same place while this investigation was going on,” McLay said, emphasizing that he did not stop efforts to modernize technology, only payments to B-Three.
Though Schubert said he still plans to implement the systems, his priorities are reducing gun violence and equipping the bureau with body cameras, he said.
In an email, PublicSource requested additional information from Schubert on why projects weren’t implemented and how much implementation might cost. No additional information was available by publication.
Last month, B-Three President Michael Walton said his company completed the work it had been asked to do. He said it is the city’s fault if projects were not implemented.
Walton was not available at his office this afternoon. An employee who answered the phone said a call may be returned by the firm’s attorney but did not provide contact information. The attorney did not call.
Council recently discussed the Daily Activity Sheet and approved a bill that uses leftover funding for that project to pave streets. PublicSource has since learned that a specified account council created in 2013 to pay for the project was largely untouched, though the city fully paid its $110,000 bill for the system.
B-Three was paid in six installments, and only the final two payments — totaling $29,000 — came from the account specified to pay for the full project. Invoices show that the city paid B-Three from three other accounts used by the Department of Innovation & Performance.
Keyva Clark, a spokesperson for the mayor, said it’s not unusual for projects to be paid for out of multiple accounts as long as they don’t go over budget. City departments have discretion over which accounts to use to pay for specific projects, she wrote in an email.
Peduto emphasized on Wednesday morning that the city was actively changing the way it handles software projects and decried the “siloed” approach used in the past where individual departments bought software that fit their specific needs.
Instead, the city is looking to implement technology projects that will work together and follow a master plan developed by the consulting firm Deloitte.
“It is a specialized field — government technology — and it does require expertise and if you are going to have it work across departments you can’t have a siloed approach,” Peduto said. “I don’t know if we were let down by not utilizing things that had been purchased in the past. I just don’t think we approached it in the right manner in the past.”
Schubert said the bureau is pursuing a deal with Allegheny County to replace APRS with a newer system created by California-based TriTech Software Systems.
“From everything I’ve seen from it, I think it’s something that I think we’ll benefit,” Schubert said, adding that city police wouldn’t start using the system until next year.
The TriTech system will modernize how officers file reports, allow information to be easily shared by other departments in the county and is being largely paid for by Allegheny County, aside for customization costs.
If the city inks a deal with the county, the new system would likely replace some of the systems B-Three custom-built for the police. But Lee Haller, the director of the city’s Department of Innovation & Performance, said switching to the county’s system wouldn’t mean the end of B-Three’s work with the city.
The city could still use B-Three to maintain applications it has already built or to integrate the city’s current applications and the county’s system.
Peduto said he’ll be following Haller’s guidance, as well as recommendations from Deloitte.
“I’ll be relying on [Lee Haller’s] advice but it will also need to follow within the recommendations we have from Deloitte and I would rely upon him to make sure that that’s aligned. This is something that’s beyond my payscale,” he said.
Haller explained that some city departments are moving away from B-Three products and that less money is budgeted for upkeep in 2019 compared to this year. The bill before council breaks down new funding into two chunks: $367,320 for 2018 and $205,320 for 2019.
The funds will be used to pay B-Three staffers, Haller said, mostly to work on a a few large systems, such as APRS. B-Three’s estimated hourly rate is $90.25 though the city may pay less than that, Haller said.
During Wednesday’s council meeting, Councilwoman Deb Gross questioned why the city needed to maintain so many systems. She singled out one named “Panhandling” in a list of 46 systems B-Three is expected to maintain if council approves the funding.
Schubert explained that the panhandling system was birthed out of a council ordinance to respond to aggressive panhandling in the city.
Gross asked why a customized data system needed to be built to do that.
After the meeting, Gross said council needs directors of city departments to communicate with council about their department’s needs and “to prove to us and show to us in public conversation which of these pieces of software are being used and in what capacity.
“Otherwise there’s no way for us or the public to gauge what’s the right price tag,” Gross said.
Councilman Corey O’Connor said he feels B-Three essentially has a monopoly on the systems that council is being asked to approve funding for. He stressed the need for council to have more oversight over the bidding of software projects in the future.
Haller told council that paying B-Three would be cheaper and alleviate the need for replacement employees to learn on the job, though the city is already moving away from B-Three’s projects.
O’Connor said he feels like council needs to vote for the B-Three maintenance bill despite reservations.
“This is something that we have to get done,” he said. “It saves us money, from what we’re being told.”
The two-year funding bill for B-Three is up for final council approval next week.
Correction (4/3/2018): The story previously misstated the year in which the Case Management program was paid for.
J. Dale Shoemaker is PublicSource’s government and data reporter. You can reach him at 412-515-0069 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @JDale_Shoemaker. He can be reached securely at PGP: bit.ly/2ig07qL
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