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Easthampton To Unveil Public Safety Software Overhaul

With funding from state, the details on the city’s emergency dispatch software are sparse 

By Shelby Lee 

In response to concerns about police conduct and public accountability, as well as a growing need to replace a series of outdated data systems, the City of Easthampton requested funding from the state’s Community Compact IT Grant Program to “overhaul” their public safety system in 2021. The program provides grants for one-time capital needs and costs related to the implementation and support of innovative IT projects. The funding of $125,000 was awarded to the city in December of the same year for the “deployment of a multi-faceted public safety system,” per WAMC

On January 19, 2022, the City Council voted unanimously to appropriate an additional $144,327.92 from the cannabis stabilization fund to “supplement the cost of deploying a state-of-the-art public safety suite including data conversion/migration, licenses, and support.” This funding is in addition to two separate information technology grants from the state Municipal Cybersecurity Program for cybersecurity training in threat assessment, end-user training, and threat simulation for fiscal year 2021 and 2022. 

A year later, the overhaul is still in the works. Originally discussed in City Council and sub-committee meetings as a streamlining of access to public records and providing better public safety accountability, the publicly available updates on the project are hard to find. On the city’s Information Technology Department website the only information about the project is a link to an article published on December 22, 2021, pertaining to the awarded state grant funding. There are no links to city meetings or planning documents that reference the project or its status on the department’s webpage. 

The clearest available information about the technology the grant would support was mentioned during the January 19th, 2022 city council meeting. While voting to appropriate the “supplemental” cannabis stabilization funds toward new public safety software, Councilors explained the software the city would be purchasing would be CentralSquare Pro. The Florida based company serves 7,500 government agencies and is best known for their emergency dispatching software. 

During the meeting, on a motion to appropriate the funds, Councilor Rist described CentralSquare Pro as a “public safety software” that “integrates data across the system, from 911 to CAD, to Mobile, to Records, to Jail, to administrative tasks… It is powerful, yet easy to use, one application, one system, one database, and one password. The analytics module provides powerful reporting tools, mapping-based analysis, AI and machine learning for proactive insights, charts and graphs for intelligent policing.” Ten minutes earlier in the meeting Rist made a statement contradictory to the motion, “it is not predictive software, it is not AI that predicts crime and which targets minorities and low income neighborhoods.” 

When asked for clarification of this statement and the scope of AI and database sharing tools IT Department Director Karin Camihort responded, “CS Pro Public Safety Suite has many capabilities. Central Square, the main company, created a software that makes sophisticated/complex issues easier to manage.” They provided weblinks from CentralSquare with product advertisement videos about the public safety suite that boasts “automation and innovation” a  “comprehensive bench of proven products” and “multi-agency collaboration”. One of the advertisements explains that personnel logged into the safety suite can see call information and associated information for calls across agencies. 

The company CentralSquare technologies has faced a few lawsuits. In 2019 CentralSquare was sued by Berkeley County, South Carolina for failing to deliver on a self imposed deadline to deliver a $1 million software package. The company has also paid out $1.9 million in settlement money in response to a class action lawsuit on a “wave of data breaches”.  The lawsuit alleged that CentralSquare “willfully failed to make the necessary updates to its security practices, protocols, and click2gov system.” The company admitted no fault or wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement. 

The purchase of this information system raised questions for city residents about information confidentiality and how the departments will be able to prioritize both the safety and privacy of city residents while simultaneously providing ease of access and information reporting efficiency to city departments.

An interview with Dr. Karin Camihort, the director of the city’s Information Technology Department, addressed some of these questions and gave an overview of the CentralSquare data suite. She also provided an update on where the city is in the process of its implementation. 

Director Camihort said the “go-live” date for the technology is June of this year and that the department has been “hard at work on data transfer and system configuration.” Dr. Camihort expanded further, telling The Shoestring: “CentralSquare Pro is designed to adapt to the unique needs and workflows of each department. An implementation team has been working on the conversion and design for months.”  

When asked about information privacy and the written policies around department employees’ level of access to data within the system, Camihort stated that the Massachusetts Public Records Laws will be applied, including exemptions that protect the release of personal information to the public. She explained that “There are multiple levels of access/rights in the new CentralSquare Pro Suite. Users can add and/or edit records according to the user privileges… There are different levels of CJIS access. Access is given on a need-to-know/need-to-share basis and provided based on job, and/or clearance.” 

In response to questions about data storage and future costs to the city, Dr. Camihort explained that while the data storage was “not cloud based, the servers are hosted by the City IT Data Center,” there is a cost for maintaining the software that is paid from the city’s IT budget. However, the informational web link provided by Dr. Camihort about the public safety suite repeatedly references cloud based data sharing across multiple agencies through the third party software suite.

As policing moves further into the digital sphere of video and audio recordings as an operating standard, it becomes entangled with data and information ethics, as well as privacy and accountability to that privacy within city-wide databases operating on software licensed and supported by a third-party. The city of Easthampton partnering with a company with a history of data breaches and unfulfilled promises may or may not yield the results they were hoping for and could potentially leave some information up for grabs.

Shelby Lee is a caretaker of pets and gardens, with a background in environmental science.

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