Upgrading could cost $550,000 one-time, and over $180,000 a year
CLARK COUNTY — The Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s office is warning that without a $550,000 software upgrade to their case management software they could be left unable to function in the future.
“It’s how we start a new case, every time we get a new case, from law enforcement in the office,” Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik told county councilors at a recent work session on the matter. “All the agencies in the county, they do their work, they generate cases, they refer them to us, and it allows us to track all of the cases that are referred in to us from law enforcement.”
Prosecuting Attorney’s (PA) offices in Washington state are audited once every three years to make sure they’re in compliance. Golik says the most recent audit, performed by Washington State Patrol (WSP) on behalf of the FBI, showed that their existing case-tracking system lacked required security. Failing to upgrade it, he says, could lead to their office being unable to access the massive National Crime Information Center (NCIS) database maintained by the FBI.
“We have to, by statute, provide accurate criminal history for every case, so that the judge can pose a legal sentence. Criminal history is a part of the sentencing,” Golik told the council. “There’s no if, and, or but about that. You just cannot function as a prosecutor’s office, if you don’t have that.”
The county’s current case-tracking system was adopted in the 1990’s. In 2014, the county spent $25,000 to upgrade the system in order to keep it compliant at that time. When WSP auditors ruled in April of last year the county was again out of compliance, Golik says they worked with their IT department in hopes of finding a fix.
“And they end up recommending that the only way to get out of (non) compliance is to move to a new updated system,” said Golik.
That was last October. Golik says his department then applied for Federal grant money to fix the system but were denied. He then went to County Manager Shawn Henessee with the request late last year but Henessee said he couldn’t include it in that budget, but would look at it again in the Spring supplemental.
“We have worked for a long time, even before I took office in the prosecutor’s office, to run a fiscally conservative office and to only ask for budget authority when we need something,” Golik says. “We don’t ask for stuff if we don’t have to have it.”
Golik says they put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) earlier this year and received responses from four companies. They also went to several other counties to see what systems prosecuting attorneys offices there were using. A second funding request in May was voted down 3-2 by the council, with Chair Eileen Quiring and Councilor Julie Olson voting yes.
“It was not made clear to me that this was something that was essentially promised in the budget work prior,” said Councilor Temple Lentz at the work session. “And so when it came forward as an emergency request that was not an emergency, because it was well known, there was a friction for me there.”
Henessee later clarified, saying he never “promised” Golik or his office that they would get the funding.
“I said I would make it a priority,” he said. “And I was very open about that during the budget process last year, because when I met with them, and we discussed this, we went over some of the technical issues. What I said was, I would make it a priority to see if we could find funding and, if we could, then I’d see if we could put it in the budget.”
Lentz said seeing the information presented again with more detail would likely tip her to supporting the funding next time around, though there was some debate over whether it should come up in the Fall supplemental budget, or wait for the 2020 budget in December.
Golik was asked what kind of timeline there was for a decision to be made. While he said the answer is difficult, his sense from the auditors was that there was no firm cutoff date.
“They are saying that as long as we are moving forward, that we will continue to have access,” he said, noting that just setting a time to bring up the budget vote again would likely be seen as progress.
More skeptical was District 4 Councilor Gary Medvigy, a retired judge, who said he was unclear on why an out-of-compliance case management system would cut off access to a criminal history database, since they are two separate pieces of software.
Golik responded that, from the FBI’s point of view, if his office is out of compliance in one area, they’re out of compliance in everything.
“The Vancouver police could still run a criminal rap sheet. Sheriff’s Office could still run criminal rap sheet. But they wouldn’t be able to give to us,” he said. “It would be the same as if we just opened the doors to our office and said ‘public, come on in.'”
Medvigy said he’s also still unsure how the RFP process would play out, and whether Golik’s office is doing everything they can to make sure they’re getting the best system for the money.
Golik said Thurston County is going through a similar situation, so they’ve been able to share information about what software systems are out there. He’s also spent time talking with his colleagues throughout the state during annual gatherings.
“I’ve never heard all of the 39 elected say, ‘gosh, this one is perfect, and we all are using this one,’” says Golik, adding that their research has shown that the system they have in mind is likely the best option available. “Is there another one out there that costs half as much that’ll do just as well? And the answer has been a resounding ‘no, there’s not.’”
Aside from the $550,000 initial cost, the system is estimated to cost an additional $185,000 annually for maintenance.
“Typically, with software packages, the maintenance costs are where software companies really make their significant money,” said Henessee, “and those will only continue to go up.”
Councilor John Blom wondered, for that cost, would they be guaranteed not to run into future problems requiring yet another software change.
Golik joked that “all of us will be in this room again 20 years from now” but did say they have received assurances that compliance will be maintained into the foreseeable future.
Henessee added that the county had ongoing maintenance expenses for the existing software system until the provider went out of business. That saved money, but eventually led to the current situation where they can’t continue to upgrade or maintain the software.
Golik says ultimately this upgrade, while expensive, is going to be necessary sooner or later. Being cut off from tracking cases or providing defense attorneys and judges with state mandated criminal history data would cripple the fifth-largest county in Washington state when it comes to the business of criminal justice.
“It would kind of throw us back into the Stone Age, trying to somehow function as a large office, fifth largest in the state, built on having this system and then going to no system,” Golik said. “It just is not doable.”