by Thomas Wailgum

Why IT Change Is Hard: Typewriters Still in Use at NYPD

Jul 16, 20093 mins
Data CenterEnterprise ApplicationsIT Leadership

The city of New York has signed a three-year, $1 million deal for typewriters, the majority of which will be used by the NYPD. While the department has endured a major, multiyear technology overhaul (and had big success), the case goes to show that IT change is never done.

Technological change is never easy. Or quick. Or perfect.

Just look at the New York City Police Department. The NYPD made unfortunate news this week when the New York Post reported that New York City had signed a nearly $1 million contract with a vendor to purchase thousands of new manual and electric typewriters during the next three years.

The NYPD’s typewriter needs, noted the article, accounted for the bulk of the contract.

This is the same organization that CIO profiled in March 2006. The article describes how NYPD Deputy Commissioner and CIO Jim Onalfo, who took over the reins in May 2003, had invigorated the NYPD’s IT department and brought them into the 21st century. As the article reported, changes to the insular and bureaucratic culture and legacied IT environment had been vast—massive improvements in disaster recovery, wireless communications and networking infrastructure, just to name a few. (To read the profile, see NYPD New.)

Even three years into Onalfo’s serious IT overhaul in 2006, stark disconnects were still present: “Each of the 76 precincts is now connected by a videoconferencing system that ties into a command center at One Police Plaza,” the article stated. “Within some of the precincts, however, there are still detectives using typewriters to fill out paper reports.”

According to the Post article, NYPD cops “still use typewriters to fill out property and evidence vouchers, which are printed on carbon-paper forms. There are typewriters in every police precinct, including one in every detective squad.” (The NYPD “is working on software to eliminate the old machines,” a police representative told the Post.)

It should be noted that NYPD IT and CIO Onalfo have made huge strides in overhauling how the NYPD uses new technologies. The NYPD relies heavily on the Real-Time Crime Center (RTCC), a high-tech “war room” where detectives are able to tap into dozens of police, government and other related databases. As an example of the RTCC’s power, real-time information from police officers at the scenes of crime can be meshed with the sophisticated database queries made at the RTCC to help to track down criminals.

In addition, as reported in fall 2008, emergency 911 capabilities allow citizens to directly transmit photos and videos to the police at the RTCC. New Yorkers can also send text messages and multi-language e-mails to its Crime Stoppers hotline program.

In truth, there are probably a lot of businesses and government agencies that have stashes of typewriters in their offices, just like the NYPD does. But until everything is digitized, there will be a seemingly mind-boggling need for typewriters.

The NYPD’s typewriters are both a lasting vestige of the way things were and a shocking reminder of just how much more change needs to be done.

Do you Tweet? Follow me on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline.