San Jose police computer crashed after officer shooting

The San Jose Police Department’s 11-year-old 3G mobile computer system was down for hours after the shooting death Tuesday of Officer Michael Johnson because the sudden demand for data from officers outpaced the system’s hardware, a police official said Friday.

The fatal shooting of Johnson at 6:50 p.m. Tuesday set off a rare surge of requests for hundreds of pages of documents through the department’s Mobile Data Computer system, or MDC, which crashed until the following morning, Deputy Chief Jeff Marozick said:

“That particular incident that evening with an officer-involved shooting, many of the officers were going to the system and bringing up the system. … Every officer is very concerned and they want to bring that event up and they want to read it and the fact that everyone brought that event up at the same time caused our system to seize.”

Marozick said it is difficult to say exactly when the system went down or for how long, but when he went into the communications center at about 6 a.m. Wednesday, he was told the system “had issues all night” before technicians were able to fix the problem:

“I think it went down that evening and but wasn’t rectified until early that next morning.”

Many of the department’s computers, also known as Mobile Data Terminals, or MDTs, and installed in police patrol cars for communications, mapping locations and criminal record searches, are at or near the end of their 5-year working life spans, he said. The department has plans to replace its 3G-speed system, which the department has relied on since 2004, with faster 4G LTE ones, he said.

The mobile units work through cellphone towers that can also trigger system overloads and outages if too much public and police phone traffic is going through them. Out of date hardware in the computer can also plague the system, he said. Police on Tuesday night were able to use their radios to communicate with each other, he said.

The department is also looking at software that would serve as a redundant backup system by bouncing off a cell tower that is not functioning to one that can provide service, Marozick said:

“This technology is cellular and we are reliant on cell towers.”

Another factor is that while police used to write reports on paper, officers now type in data, which adds to the amount of digital information flowing through the department’s computer system and slows it down, he said.

About 120 outdated mobile data computers in police cars were replaced last year after their 5-year lives ended and another 120 aging units are scheduled for replacement this year and in 2016. San Jose police are still using Microsoft Windows XP as a computer operating system and intend soon to upgrade to Windows 7, he said.

Johnson, 38, a 14-year veteran San Jose police officer, was shot Tuesday after answering a distress call from a family member of a man described as distraught, intoxicated and armed, possibly with a rifle.

When Johnson and other police reached the scene in the 2600 Senter Road in East San Jose to assist, the man, later identified as Scott Dunham, 57, fired a high-powered rifle from the balcony of his condominium, striking and killing Johnson.

Officer Doug Potwora, a 16-year veteran of the department who was among the officers who responded, returned fire and wounded Dunham, who was found dead when police forced their way into the condominium early Wednesday.

A memorial vigil was planned at 8 p.m. this evening for Johnson, involving state, county and city elected officials, outside San Jose City Hall, an organizer said. An official memorial service for Johnson has been set for 11 a.m. next Thursday at the SAP Center, 525 W. Santa Clara St., in San Jose, according to police.

Assistant Chief Eddie Garcia, who joined Marozick today at a news conference outside police headquarters at 201 W. Mission St., said that the data overload and crash experienced by the mobile data terminal system during the flurry of activity in response to Johnson’s shooting was not an isolated incident:

“It is unacceptable for our MDTs to not work, and we know that and the men and women that are working on the street deserve better.”