The Winona County Board approved a $381,000 contract last month that will allow all county law enforcement agencies to share data electronically. The vote would have been unanimous, except that commissioner Marcia Ward voted against the contract because of questions pertaining to what she felt were hidden fees and whether the county would be obligated to continue making payments to its current criminal data vendor.
Ward said the data sharing project was a good idea and would create efficiencies throughout county law enforcement agencies. However, she said she felt strongly about spending tax money wisely and her constituents expected her to have answers to her questions before she voted to spend their money. "I'm opposed," she explained, "because I'm not being allowed to have my questions answered prior to a vote."
The County Board agreed to pay for the entire system, which will also serve police in Goodview, Lewiston and St. Charles. The board also voted to lend money to those cities to pay for new laptops that will be compatible with the computer programs. Although the board did not set a limit on the amount of the loans, it asked that the money be repaid within three years.
County Attorney Karin Sonneman said she wanted to publicly support the system upgrade, adding that there was currently too much "silo" mentality among law enforcement agencies, and this would help bring them together. Other law enforcement officials have also heartily recommended the new system, saying it has been on the wish lists of law enforcement offices for decades.
A county "Lean Management Team" studied the idea for over a year before seeking proposals from contractors. Three proposals were submitted, and the team determined that the bid from Law Enforcement Technology Group (LETG) would provide for the best "future state." Additionally, LETG offered a 10 percent discount on the contract if the county agreed to it quickly.
Ward asked questions during the meeting that went unanswered, including how long the county was obligated to continue paying for its current contract with Computer Information Systems (CIS). She told the Winona Post following the meeting that county staff members seemed unable to find the current contract, and wondered if the county would have to pay for two contracts until it expired.
Additionally, Ward questioned several components of the lengthy new contract, including sections that allude to additional fees for related products and something called "net motion BPN software" and "BPN connection." Only a half-day of staff training was included in the contract, and if staff members needed more, Ward noted, it would cost the county $1,200 per day. An annual maintenance payment of 14 percent was included in the contract language as well, and Ward asked whether that was 14 percent of the total contract price, or of some other figure.
"There wouldn't be anything in this contract that hadn't been reviewed by the Lean Team," said Winona County Administrator Duane Hebert. Sonneman said she had reviewed the contract, as well, and that the contract review performed by her office was not rushed, as Ward had earlier suggested. Ward later noted that the contract includes the name of a former county commissioner on the signature page who hasn't been in office for six months, questioning the attention paid to the document.
Several county officials reportedly received a disgruntled letter from CIS, the county's current law enforcement data contractor, asserting it could do a better job of handling the county agencies' data needs. Ward said the company wanted to meet with county officials, but Hebert said if the board met with vendors it would become a "sales pitch." Hebert also explained that CIS never submitted a proposal when contractors were solicited for information on the kinds of systems they could provide.
Commissioner Steve Jacob said it was important for the board to support the work of the Lean Team on the concept, adding that it would provide efficiencies and give employees the tools they need to do a good job. Commissioner Jim Pomeroy said that law enforcement agencies would be able to access data from neighboring departments in real time, adding that the upgrade would also negate the need for redundant data entry across county law enforcement agencies.
According to LETG, examples of return on investments experienced by other municipalities that switched to the new system include: Elk River Police Department saved $15,000 annually on office supplies; Saint Anthony Police Department reduced time in gathering patrol statistics by 50 percent, reduced citation-writing time by 50 percent, and nearly eliminated the need for data entry by front desk staff; the Rogers Police Chief estimated the department would experience efficiencies equivalent to 2.5 full-time staff members; and a Beltrami County Sheriff Department 2007 time management study showed that officers spent 28 percent of their time [before the new system,] driving back and forth to the office to do reports, and "Now their squad is their office."