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Washington police use of force database project faces delays

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(The Center Square) – In 2021, the Washington State Legislature enacted Senate Bill 5259 directing the state Attorney General’s Office to build a police use of force database that would continually receive information from state law enforcement agencies. According to the bill’s fiscal note, the “approximate timeline” for the project would be to have it up and running by April 2023.

However, a year past that date the database has yet to be operational. Washington State University employees involved in the $15 million project, the Washington State Data Exchange for Public Safety, say it has experienced several setbacks and ongoing delays, including a prospective subcontractor withdrawing at the last minute.

During a March 28 presentation in Everett, WSU Professor David Makin told the audience that the university was initially planning to subcontract with IBM, which would have built the data collection systems. However, he said that “one of the challenges with the contract that we have is that the platform is owned by the state of Washington,” and that IBM was unwilling to hand over its intellectual property.

“We have to understand that,” he said.

He added that WSU in the process of hiring two new vendors, adding that unlike before there will be “no co-mingle creation” between the different entities.

According to the project’s website, the goal is to launch the public database in July.

The latest quarterly report submitted by Makin states that “project development is on track, and progress is being made on all fronts,” but also notes that “data privacy and intellectual property rights complexities brought risk management to the forefront this quarter, resulting in contract delays with subcontractors and a revision to the proposed network architecture. WADEPS will need to take on some deliverables, and costs initially allocated for managed services from the technology partner will be shifted to WADEPS personnel.”

The report also states that “the main concern expressed by potential technology partners has been whether each company can adequately protect its background intellectual property. WSU is finalizing the scope of works and budgets with its now-identified technology partners and negotiating the contracting terms.”

Much of the process toward creating the database has been fraught with controversy. During the request for proposal process, potential bidder and Police Strategies CEO Bob Scales accused both AGO and WSU employees of unethical conduct by collaborating to ensure that WSU, ultimately the only university to bid on the project, would be awarded the contract. A former prosecutor, Scales participated in the legislative process surrounding SB 5259 but ultimately did not submit a bid on the project due to various stipulations, including handing over intellectual property.

He later accused the AGO and WSU President Kirk Schultz of interfering in an ethics complaint investigation against Makin. All his complaints have either been dismissed or no action was taken.

His latest critique concerns the intellectual property stipulations in the contract that led to the fallout between WSU and IBM, writing in an email to WADEPS that “since these terms were clearly stated in the RFP materials, either IBM did not do their due diligence, or they were misled by WSU. IBM and WSU spent nearly two years working on the RFP proposal and contract and it is hard to believe that this issue did not come up until the very last minute.”

He has also accused WSU of “blatantly and unreservedly violating state public procurement laws, regulations and policies” due to its pending contracts with subcontractors without engaging in a competitive bidding process.

While state law allows for a sole source contract, Scales wrote that “a sole source contract cannot be entered into for this project because there are many qualified technology companies that could perform the services that IBM was supposed to provide.”

In an email reply to Scales, WADEPS wrote that “we received your message and thank you for sharing your concerns and recommendations.”

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