Iowa Public Safety seeks fund to replace ‘old dog’ computer hardware

DES MOINES — Back in 2003, the United States launched war on Iraq, the Columbia space shuttle blew up, a road map to peace in the Mideast was released — and postponed and there were nearly 8,500 cases of SARS — the acute respiratory syndrome — that led to 810 deaths around the world.

It also was the year the Iowa Department of Public Safety went large on technology with new computer servers to store criminal records and other data.

“Eighteen years. It’s like dog years,” DPS Commissioner Stephan Bayens told a legislative appropriations panel recently. “I don’t know if it’s a direct comparison — one dog year is like seven human years, but technology is kind of the same.”

In his annual appearance before the Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee, Bayens talked about the need for new technology to meet the agency’s current and future needs.

Servers that Bayens described as the “backbone” of the DPS system have been enhanced — “Band-Aided,” a staffer said. Updating the existing system no longer is possible because each attempt to enhance one part of the system throws it out of alignment with other components.

Vendors no longer service the technologically ancient hardware and security updates aren’t available to protect the sensitive material in the department’s records, Bayens said.

His concern is that the department maintains 750,000 criminal history records on the now obsolete 2003 computer system.

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DPS has spent $700,000 of a $1.2 million federal grant for the upgrade. Significant progress has been made through the initial research and development phases, however the department needs $600,000 in state funding to complete the project.

The criminal history files, Bayens explained, are used not only by the criminal justice system for investigations, criminal prosecutions and parole decisions. Also, health care, child care and education industries rely on DPS to conduct background checks on prospective employees.

It’s using a decade-old homegrown application to manage that data.

A new system will increase efficiency and require less manual data entry, such as “pen-and-paper manual redaction” of confidential information when completing records requests, Bayens said.

The DPS will be able to respond more quickly to expungements, dismissals, deferred judgments and record sealing, and have more flexibility when the Legislature requires record keeping changes, such as expungements of some juvenile records.

Bayens also is seeking $280,000 to replace and Oracles database appliances that the company no longer supports. The system “truly is not sustainable.”

New hardware would house “mission critical” databases including criminal histories, the sex-offender registry, the department’s intelligence and case management systems, and the Division of Criminal Investigation lab information management system.

The computer system also keeps tabs on the locations of Iowa State Patrol troopers at all times, “so if ever (there is) a public safety incident, we know where troopers are,” Bayens said.

Replacing the equipment will increases capacity for future growth, he said, and provide hardware and software stability to decrease downtime and power consumption.

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Bayens’ budget request also includes $4.1 million for the sixth lease/purchases payment for the ISICS radio system, which has more than 21,000 users. The digital communication system is used by public safety agencies, first responders, schools and utility workers around the state.

He’s also seeking:

• $565,000 for 11 portable bomb tech kits for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, which average more than 100 suspected bomb cases a year.

• $212,000 for investigative response, analysis and collections tools that are used by the department and other law enforcement agencies.

In 2018 and 2019, the equipment the department has was deployed 430 times to law enforcement agencies.

• $232,500 over two years for two emergency rescue vehicles for the four DPS tactical units that were called out 78 times last year.

One unit would serve northeast Iowa, the other western Iowa.

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