One of the most dispiriting aspects of life under a new administration in Topeka is the continual revelation of expensive gaps caused by previous administrations. As Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration has approached its work in a technocratic, fix-the-problems manner, ever more problems have been revealed that might have been hidden before.
The latest eye-popping, stomach-churning problem?
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s obsolete Automated Fingerprint Identification System. We’re the only state still using the system, which was installed 12 years ago and isn’t actively supported by its vendor. Its last major update was seven years ago.
The system is one of the backbones supporting public safety in our state. It’s the system used for criminal investigations, as well as background checks for those working with children. Its reliability and continued functioning is not a minor issue. It’s foundational for keeping Kansans safe and protected from those who might pose a threat.
“The risk to public safety is significant,” said Joe Mandala, the KBI’s chief information officer, told The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter. “A failure of this system would cripple criminal justice and public safety operations across the state, most directly at local law enforcement agencies.”
The agency is putting together a study, which it expects to wrap up in September, that will look at options to replacing the current system, which is called the Automated Fingerprint Identification System and contains the impressions of some 2 million individuals.
Reports about the system’s challenges first hit the Legislature in 2017, but one expects that the executive branch had some inkling of the brewing problem before then (if it didn’t, that suggests a whole new range of problems). However, if all of state government is devoted to frantically trying to paper over gaping holes caused by damaging fiscal policy, thoughtful forecasting of future problems can take a back burner.
Kansas will now be faced with the unenviable task of putting a new fingerprint system in place with vendors knowing that we’re between a rock and a hard place. Our negotiating position is shot. If we had started the process six years ago, with the last software update, or two years ago, with the first legislative airing of issues, things might be different.
As it is, yet again, the Kelly administration is in the painful position of cleaning up a mess not of its own making. Despite 2020 being an election year, we hope leaders in the Legislature roll up their sleeves and commit to solving this very real problem.