Life on the Streets

The West Haven Police Department uses IBM i to fight crime the high-tech way

The West Haven Police Department uses IBM i to fight crime the high-tech way
Photography by Gale Zucker

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CUSTOMER: West Haven Police Department
HEADQUARTERS: West Haven, Conn.
BUSINESS: Community law enforcement
HARDWARE: An IBM System i 520
SOFTWARE: Custom software from DCS Inc. and WebSmart from Business Computer Design (BCD) Int’l
CHALLENGE: Modernizing the way it captures and shares information
SOLUTION: Using DCS software and WebSmart to create applications that collect and store data on the System i platform

I’m a big fan of television cop shows, particularly “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Wire.” They’re both well written and acted, but I’ve noticed a difference between the two: “Homicide” is decidedly lower-tech than “The Wire.”

“Homicide” is feet on the pavement, with detectives canvassing neighborhoods and putting people into the box to sweat confessions out of them. “The Wire,” as its name implies, relies more on technology—specifically, wiretaps—to solve crimes. Sure, “The Wire” is fiction, but this dependency on technology is becoming increasingly common in the real-world protect-and-serve community.

While police departments will always have badge-bearing personnel in their ranks, they no longer rely on instinct and well-honed interviewing abilities alone to protect their communities. In fact, they’re already using in-car technology to check on vehicle license plates and witness or suspect backgrounds. But that’s just the beginning, as the West Haven Police Department in West Haven, Conn., has already begun to demonstrate.

Thanks in large part to a longtime business partner, DCS Inc., some of its custom programs and several Web-savvy solutions developed using WebSmart from Business Computer Design (BCD) Int’l Inc., the department has taken the next step in law enforcement, infusing technology into nearly every facet of its operations. Because of this innovative use of software—and its reliance on the IBM i environment as its primary computing platform—the department’s law-enforcement duties are more streamlined and effective, letting the residents of West Haven rest better at night.

At All Cost

Adjoining New Haven, West Haven is a city of about 55,000 people living in about 10 to 12 square miles, Detective Joseph Vecellio says. The city is about 60 miles from New York City and some 80 miles from Boston. It’s a convenient location, Vecellio notes, “but we also get the problems of those two places.”

The WHPD receives 55,000 to 60,000 calls a year. Some are simple nuisance complaints, but others are more serious, including felony offenses. Given that the department has only about 120 sworn officers—including patrol offers, detectives, lieutenants, captains and chiefs—and a mere 20 or so civilian personnel in its ranks, it’s no wonder Vecellio says, “We stay pretty busy.”

As a result, the force requires a sound IT underpinning. In this case, that includes an IBM System i* 520, which runs most of the department’s mission-critical applications and acts as its primary database host. Notably, only Vecellio and his partner Sergeant Joseph Wynosky make up the force’s department of IT (or “Do It,” as Vecellio lightheartedly refers to it), and they’re also the only members of the computer-crimes department. “I live every kid’s dream. I carry a gun and work on computers all day,” Vecellio jokes.

Even more notable is that Vecellio is self-taught when it comes to IT, including the System i server. “I do hold a certificate in computer forensics, but other than that, I’ve learned everything on my own,” he says. “In fact, it started off as a hobby about eight or nine years ago. Now, I really enjoy it and immerse myself in it. I probably get 20 magazines a month, and I’m constantly reading, seeing what other people are doing, watching the trends—everything.”

That’s good, because the department is always looking for ways to improve how it polices its city. In the past, this wasn’t so easy. The department—like many commercial companies—relied heavily on PC servers running some flavor of the Microsoft* Windows* operating system. But this wasn’t the ideal situation the department was looking for; Vecellio cites concerns about crashing and insecure systems.

“I just don’t feel like you get the same stability as you do with the System i machine,” he says. “If we do a query of 500,000 to 700,000 records in a Windows machine, stuff happens. Usually, you get a crash. I can easily run that same query on the System i platform, and in 10 seconds, I get the information I need without having to worry about any crashes. Also, there’s some information that we have to give out under the Freedom of Information Act, but at the same time, we have information that we absolutely cannot release, and we have to protect that data at all cost. The System i server allows us to do that.”

“Everything’s on the System i platform, which is really the brain, heart and soul of the department.” —Detective Joseph Vecellio, West Haven Police Department

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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