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Criminal Justice

Lost Inmates, Missing Charges, Warrant Snafus: New SF Computer Network Fumbles Into Place

Written by Jonah Owen LambPublished Jul. 01, 2022 • 6:07pm
Illustration by Leo Cooperband

English

Inmates languishing in their cells, cases not being reviewed or charged, warrants gone missing. 

These are just some of the problems caused by the bungled replacement of a decades-old software San Francisco’s criminal justice system uses to communicate, according to documents obtained by The Standard and sources familiar with the situation. 

The new network was supposed to bring a system that relied on an antiquated Atari-era program into the 21st century. Instead, it has caused chaos and could lead to the violation of constitutional rights—and potentially endanger police officers, according to people with knowledge of the issue.

“This new system is a mess,” San Francisco prosecutor Ryan Khojasteh said. “It’s a complete upending [of] how we do our job.”

The biggest issue, he said, is getting timely access to information prosecutors need to handle cases and manage their workload.

The city Department of Technology’s decommissioning of a longstanding but working system has not gone smoothly, and at least one agency warned that the changeover happened too soon. Still, the department pushed ahead, and contrary to accounts from some sources, it claims the transition is going smoothly. 

The impacted agencies met on April 19 to discuss the coming change. Some had “fatal” concerns about the rapid rollout. The District Attorney’s Office and with Adult Probation voted to postpone the launch while the Office of the Public Defenders abstained, according to an April 27 letter sent by the DA to the Office of the City Administrator.

“We are deeply concerned about reported problems from the rollout of the city’s Department of Technology project, which DA Boudin specifically expressed concerns about months ago,” said Rachel Marshall, a spokesperson with the DA’s office, in an email. “We are disappointed that the city chose to proceed despite our concerns and we are troubled to see these predictions come to fruition.”

The Issues Are Myriad

As of Friday morning, the list of problems with the software rollout filled a page, according to an internal document circulated within the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and obtained by the SF Standard.

“Individuals are missing from the DA rebooking reports,” noted the document, which marked the matter as “high priority.” In effect, the line details that defendants booked into jail are not showing up in the system for prosecutors who must file charges within 72 hours or release them. The document said the new system administrator is “researching the root cause and identifying a fix to implement.” 

The internal document also noted that the sheriff’s unit that issues and checks on warrants as well as records “will revert to manual check of all bookings to ensure rebooking times are met.” 

The document also said that out-of-county warrants are not being identified, which could result in releasing people who should be held on warrants, or arresting the wrong people who don’t have warrants. 

More worrying is the potential that a dangerous felon with a warrant would not be identified—and an approaching officer wouldn’t know danger existed. 

The San Francisco Police Identification Bureau—charged with identifying arrests via fingerprints and mugshots, and working with the FBI for potential national warrants—is being forced to enter information manually into the system, according to the document. 

A meeting on the issues is set for June 5, noted the document.  

The internal document also said charges are missing in some cases and some bookings are missing future court dates. 

In courtrooms, these issues are being noticed, deputy public defender Alex Lilien said. For instance, he said he was dealing with a warrant for one of his client’s earlier in the week but didn’t trust the new system was accurate, so he had to look at the publicly available inmate locator to make sure his client was not already in jail.

“It also could be growing pains,” Lilien said.

Even though the old system wasn’t perfect, he said, he’s troubled by the issues with the new software.

Troubleshooting

All the major problems with the new system were acknowledged by the Sheriff’s Office and the City Administrator’s Office.  

“With the launch of any massive software system upgrade, the Sheriff’s Office expected challenges which were immediately addressed,” Tara Moriarty, spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, wrote, “To be precise, the Sheriff’s Office experienced three main challenges affecting our operations as a result of the new court tracking system software: people in custody who did not appear on the DA rebooking reports, missing information on warrants, and missing charges in the court minutes.”

As of Friday afternoon the Sheriff’s Office said those problems had been resolved. The rebooking issue, which impacted three cases, was fixed and staff are manually reviewing each booking to ensure the defendant’s constitutional rights are not being violated. Moriarty said they have yet to find any new cases.

The problems with missing or duplicate warrants are being addressed, too, officials assured. 

See Also

“For missing warrant information, our Central Records and Warrants Unit … is actively identifying missing fields, while court staff create new fields in the system,” Moriarty said.

In general, to ensure accurate and speedy communication between the jail and the courts, sheriff clerks are now reviewing the data alongside their counterparts in the court to make sure it is accurate, added Moriarty. 

As for court calendar issues, they, too, have apparently been resolved, according to the CIty Administrator’s Office. 

Aside from acknowledging the issues above, the City Administrator’s Office said the new system is running as it should.

“Like any large-scale technology projects, it is expected that implementation and process issues [will] appear, especially with this complex system replacement project,” wrote Vivian Po, spokesperson for the City Administrator’s Office. The issues you inquired about are being quickly resolved by dedicated staff from our justice agency partners.”

Officials from the Public Defender, San Francisco Police Department, and Adult Probation did not respond to requests for comment. 

The JUSTIS System

The new computer network, The Justice Tracking Information System (JUSTIS), allows agencies to share data and enables reporting and analysis of their data, according to a press release from the San Francisco Superior Court.

It went into effect with a new case management system known as C-Track, which the courts launched June 27, and, according to the court news release, is meant to “eliminate labor-intensive processes that relied heavily on manual paper input. It will increase the court’s ability to make informed decisions in real-time, leading to better utilization of resources and higher productivity.” 

Meanwhile, rollout snafus notwithstanding, the courts still have to operate. 

Prosecutor Khojasteh described the past few days as chaotic. He and his colleagues—who are already stressed—have to figure out a troubled new software while trying to somehow conduct business as usual.  

“A new system takes time to fully work out the kinks,” Khojasteh acknowledged, “but we don’t have the luxury of that time.”

English

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected]




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