The Tucson Police Department’s 17-year-old computer system will need a “several-million-dollar” overhaul within two years, according to the department’s head of information technology.
The money for that revamp has yet to be allocated, said Bill Tilden, TPD’s finance manager. He had no estimate for how much money would be requested from the city or exactly when. “We will be talking about it,” he said.
Jim Wysocki, the department’s information services director, said TPD has started looking into financing arrangements that would spread the cost over several years.
“It would be about the same amount of money but lower the financial impact to the city,” Wysocki said.
The looming expenditure comes at a time when the department is making two other high-ticket requests – a new crime lab and new or remodeled headquarters.
The cost for the lab was estimated at between $20 million and $30 million, according to Citizen archives. No estimate is available for the headquarters, 270 S. Stone Ave.
Wysocki said the computer system is still reliable, but it is slowing down and getting harder to fix when it malfunctions.
A technological glitch could affect dispatching, wireless field reporting or records management, he said.
Wysocki doesn’t anticipate a large-scale meltdown. “We’ll just see it get slower, slower, slower over time,” he said.
But when it breaks, there may not be anyone to fix it.
“Eventually the (computer) languages aren’t taught in school anymore,” he said.
One of the languages the dispatch system uses is COBOL, short for Common Business Oriented Language, which was invented in the 1950s.
Wysocki said it is difficult to find technicians who know it.
“The biggest obstacle is finding and hiring qualified people,” he said.
TPD now employs 16 computer technicians, Wysocki said. Some work on the network, some on software, others on hardware.
They all work in various languages, but only one technician knows COBOL. The department is looking for another, Wysocki said.
Three nontechies are also assigned to IT – an officer, a detective and a sergeant, Wysocki said. They test-run innovations and suggest ways technology can be better used.
According to Wysocki, TPD computer systems are down for unscheduled interruptions less than 1 percent of the time.