Computer outage hits San Mateo Sheriff's Office

August 17, 2012 7:06:56 PM PDT
The San Mateo County Sheriff's computer system broke down last Friday and it's still not completely back in operation. The shutdown affected major law enforcement programs in the county.

The computer meltdown affected the sheriff's main record management system -- the program that handles crime reports for the patrol and investigations divisions. It also affected the crime lab and evidence data.

According to Lt. Larry Schumaker, the sheriff's office has never experienced a shutdown of this magnitude before.

The district attorney's office felt the ripple effect. Case files had to be handled manually. "Because of the shutdown of the system, we couldn't just go on the system and gain access to them," San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe explained.

Wagstaffe says his office may delay a final decision in the high-profile case of an officer-involved shooting in June of a teenager in South San Francisco because of the shutdown.

"Literally we were at the end of getting these reports, getting these crime lab reports on some recent stuff that was done," he said.

The worst-case scenario in cases involving DNA is that the raw data may have to be used to document the paper trail of the evidence, called a chain of custody.

"What I'm being told is they're going to be able to retrieve that data and establish that linkage that we need to present our cases in court," Wagstaffe said.

The shutdown also affected inmates at the county jail. Their financial records vanished, and inmates couldn't buy items at the commissary.

Mark Augustine of the Service League of San Mateo, a non-profit which helps prisoners, said the agency gave money to an inmate who was just released. "He came in and said, 'Hey, the commissary is down, the cashier's down, they can't get into my books. I can't get my money,'" said Augustine.

Monica Pantoja said what's been most distressing is that her jailed boyfriend hasn't been able to buy phone cards. "It's been hard for him to not talk to his kids and frustrating for him in there," she said.

County technicians say they took out the antiquated system and installed a new one Thursday night. "We have moved on to a new program and some of the other programs we're slowly rebuilding and looking at new systems," Schumaker said.

The sheriff's office says it's now rebuilding the system and recovering data. It says the system is now about 80 percent completed and that the commissary should go back online next week.


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