It’s a Feature, Not a Bug

A judge recently discovered that there is no backup for the evidence database used by the New York Police Department (NYPD):

As part of an ongoing legal battle to get the New York City Police Department to track money police have grabbed in cash forfeitures, an attorney for the city told a Manhattan judge on October 17 that part of the reason the NYPD can’t comply with such requests is that the department’s evidence database has no backup. If the database servers that power NYPD’s Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS)—designed and installed by Capgemini under a $25.5 million contract between 2009 and 2012—were to fail, all data on stored evidence would simply cease to exist.


Last year, NYPD’s Assistant Deputy Commissioner Robert Messner told the City Council’s public safety committee that “attempts to perform the types of searches envisioned in the bill will lead to system crashes and significant delays during the intake and release process.” The claim was key to the department’s refusal to provide the data accounting for the approximately $6 million seized in cash and property every year. As of 2013, according to the nonprofit group Bronx Defenders, the NYPD was carrying a balance sheet of more than $68 million in cash seized.

Convenient. In fact this is convenient enough for me to suspect that the lack of a backup is a feature, not a bug. Government agencies always seem to find a way to design a system in such a way that it is difficult for it to comply with data requests that could reveal embarrassing information about it. I’m sure NYPD would rather not have everybody knowing just how much cash it has stolen from people over the years. If there is especially corrupt activity going on in NYPD, which wouldn’t surprise me, being able to trash the entire evidence database would also be handy if a thorough investigation into the agency was started.