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New Orleans Police Try Again to Overhaul Technology

Nearly a year after the plug was pulled on a multimillion-dollar New Orleans Police Department technology boondoggle, the City Council has approved a new contract with a different vendor for a second try.

(TNS) — Nearly a year after the plug was finally pulled on a multimillion-dollar New Orleans Police Department technology boondoggle, the City Council on Thursday approved a new contract with a different vendor to give the project a second try.

The project, which aims to help NOPD officers with their investigations and internal processes by streamlining various records systems, was initially spearheaded by Tyrell Morris, the recently indicted former head of the Orleans Parish Communication District.

Morris signed the earlier contract without a formal selection process, but OPCD canceled it in July 2023, shortly after Morris resigned amid reports that he wrecked an agency vehicle and falsified documents to suggest he was not subject to a drug and alcohol screening.

A state grand jury indicted Morris on charges related to those allegations earlier this month. His arraignment is scheduled for June 26. An attorney for Morris said the allegations were false and he looked forward to fighting them.

The new contract, worth $4.6 million over three years, is with Mark43, which has overhauled the records systems of several big-city police departments, including Washington, D.C., Chicago and Atlanta.

City officials said New York City-based Mark43's software will replace redundant forms that officers must fill out when making arrests, potentially saving thousands of officer hours every year. Mark43 says that the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department has annually saved 238,000 officer hours with its software.

"This software is going to be a miracle, in essence creating time for police officers. Right now manpower is our biggest obstacle," NOPD Lt. Rebecca Gubert told council members on Thursday.

The software is also expected to help officers quickly find connections between different cases, and also to share information with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. And, critically, the new software should allow the NOPD to report crime statistics to the FBI, which has updated its reporting standards in recent years.

As of now, the NOPD can't comply with the new standards because it cannot validate information from crime scenes with its outdated systems, among other deficiencies, making it ineligible for certain federal grants.

"You really need to have a system that is built around making sure everything that is required is captured at the time the police officer fills out the report," said Nathaniel Weaver, a City Hall program director who oversees criminal justice technology projects.

Earlier flop

The "request for proposals" issued in December that led to the Mark43 selection wasn't the first solicitation drafted for the project. Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration drafted an earlier one in 2019 with hundreds of specifications, but it was never released.

Instead, Cantrell tapped Morris to head up the selection, an usual maneuver placing the head of a separate agency — OPCD, which handles 911 and 311 calls, is technically a state entity — in charge of finding a vendor for the police department.

Morris invited several vendors to submit proposals, including Mark43, but ended up choosing Sweden-based Hexagon OnCall Records despite Hexagon's relative lack of experience. Morris made the selection unilaterally, without using formal scoring criteria.

NOPD brass were initially hesitant but eventually agreed to use Hexagon software.

Morris signed a five-year contract worth $6 million that also included a new records system for the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. Morris said last year that Hexagon was the only vendor that offered to undertake the NOPD and Sheriff's Office projects at the same time.

But the Sheriff's Office — under former Sheriff Marlin Gusman, as well as the current sheriff, Susan Hutson — never agreed to use Hexagon. Meanwhile, the NOPD software configuration floundered for more than two years. The launch date was repeatedly pushed back as technology staffers within City Hall and the NOPD complained about Hexagon's lack of capabilities and poor customer service.

Morris dismissed those concerns, insisting that Hexagon would not be replaced. At his last OPCD board meeting in July 2023, Morris said the software would be up and running within the next two months. Bowing to public pressure, Morris hastened his resignation date and stepped down soon after that meeting.

OPCD quickly announced the Hexagon contract had been shelved.

The OPCD said in a statement at the time it had made "good faith efforts" to resolve complications, but it had "become increasingly clear, however, that a satisfactory resolution is not forthcoming."

The OPCD had paid Hexagon $3.8 million by the time it canceled the contract, including $2.2 million from a bank loan that Morris obtained for the project. OPCD is on the hook for payments on the loan through 2026.

Morris declined comment, as did a Hexagon representative.

© 2024 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.