MISHAWAKA — Brian Kazmierzak’s concerns about New World Systems’ computer-aided dispatch system may have been on the mark.
The battalion chief at the Penn Township Fire Department said leaders of the St. Joseph County 911 center should have known they were wading into a mess when they decided to buy the company’s system nearly four years ago.
Kazmierzak said New World already had a poor reputation for customer service before the county decided to work with it.
The company, in fact, has been the subject of lawsuits for similar problems with its products. Brian Kazmierzak said he had posted news about the company on a firefighter safety website he runs.
“The New World issue exists throughout the country,” he said, “and it’s been happening over and over again … I had voiced our concern that we’re behind a product that all kinds of entities already had problems with.”
In 2014, St. Joseph County and the cities of South Bend and Mishawaka shopped for dispatch software needed at the consolidated center that was then being set up.
A national search drew interest from a handful of companies. After some debate, the decision was made to go with New World instead of Motorola, the other finalist. The contract was signed by county commissioners.
New World’s system was supposed to result in quicker responses to emergencies. But that hasn’t happened since it was launched in June 2017 at the center near Mishawaka.
Instead, the system has been plagued by problems that have delayed thousands of 911 dispatches. The issue has raised questions about why officials selected New World and if red flags were overlooked.
Dispatchers are still working around problems with New World software not recognizing addresses, resulting in delays that can last minutes.
Sometimes police and fire agencies are sent to the wrong places because of mix-ups with addresses in different areas that have identical street names.
Leaders of the 911 center are considering replacing the system if it can’t be fixed. County commissioners are seeking proposals from other companies, which will be due later this month
Studies are also being done to determine if problems with the county’s Geographic Information System data could be to blame.
Officials, however, have largely blamed Plano, Texas-based Tyler Technologies — the parent company of New World — by saying it hasn’t done enough to resolve problems.
But Bryan Proctor, chief operating officer of Tyler’s public safety division, said the company has routinely sent experts to help with issues.
And he also doesn’t think problems should be blamed on New World software.
“We believe there is a fundamental issue with GIS data within this deployment,” Proctor said, “and we’d like to understand it and work together to fix it.”
It remains to be seen if the county will follow the footsteps of other communities that have sued Tyler Technologies for problems with New World software.
Mishawaka Police Chief Kenneth Witkowski Jr. said mix-ups with dispatches can cause lengthy delays.
“Last night, our guys were sent to a certain address in Mishawaka, and there’s an identical street in South Bend,” he said on Friday. “Fifteen to 20 minutes later, my guys are saying nothing is happening there. Sure enough, it was a South Bend call. That happens all the time.”
And for his part, Kazmierzak said firefighters notice problems with the system “almost daily,” and he worries “New World CAD is going to get somebody killed.”
The county Board of Commissioners approved a five-year contract with Troy, Mich.-based New World in February 2015.
Overall, the contract totaled $3.1 million. That includes $1.9 million for the system and $1.2 million in maintenance and travel fees over the contract period, which expires in July 2020.
The system, however, would later cost an extra $1 million to set up because of unplanned expenses.
Later in 2015, New World was acquired by Tyler Technologies, a publicly traded software company that serves more than 15,000 local governments nationwide.
Examples of communities that have had similar problems with New World’s dispatch software are easy to find.
In Montana, the city of Great Falls and Cascade County decided in 2012 to invest $2.3 million on New World software.
But a 2017 article in the Great Falls Tribune reported that the system never worked as advertised, and the situation worsened after New World was taken over by Tyler.
When it became clear Tyler wasn’t going to fix problems, Great Falls successfully withheld more than $500,000 in contracted payments. Last year, officials decided to switch to a new dispatch system.
In California, meanwhile, the Sacramento region’s 911 center filed a federal lawsuit in June against Tyler.
A contract signed in 2015 called for the center’s New World system to go live in fall 2017, but that didn’t happen. More than $2 million has been spent on the system, and the lawsuit claims the company says it will take another 17 to 22 years to install.
Leading efforts to consolidate operations was Todd Geers, who was hired in summer 2014 as the center’s first executive director and served until he resigned in fall 2015.
Geers was previously the public safety director in Erie County, Pa., where he led efforts to consolidate dispatch operations.
In fall 2014, the county received proposals for computer-aided dispatch systems.
The center’s operations board, composed of police and fire chiefs, formed a “technical review committee” that rated proposals without considering price as a factor.
Proposals from four companies qualified to be considered: New World, Motorola, InterAct and Cisco.
Geers and four other committee members from various police and fire agencies scored proposals based on factors that included performance, reliability and customer service.
Motorola’s system had the highest average score — 86 out of 100 — followed by InterAct (74), New World (66) and Cisco (22).
Finalists were Motorola, New World and InterAct.
Those companies were then assigned final scores that factored in the price of systems. That review process was led by South Bend engineering firm DLZ, along with Geers and other officials.
Scores showed New World’s system was the “best value,” based on a projected price of $2.6 million. Motorola’s price, by contrast, was $3.6 million and InterAct’s was $3.2 million.
Those tentative prices were based only on “required items,” and they included maintenance fees for three years. The contract that was later negotiated with New World was $500,000 more than the $2.6 million price used for scoring purposes.
Finalists considered by the operations board were Motorola and New World.
Some board members had expressed concerns about New World’s customer service, said South Bend Fire Department Chief Steve Cox, president of the board. But he said Geers made a pitch for New World.
“He was showing us that if we went with Motorola, there was no way he was going to pay dispatchers to provide adequate service,” Cox said.
In hindsight, Cox said, he thinks Geers presented the situation poorly by leading the board to believe “if we didn’t go with New World, we wouldn’t have a functional dispatch system.”
The Tribune could not determine how to reach Geers for comment.
The operations board went along with Geers and recommended the center’s executive board — composed of Commissioner President Andy Kostielney, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood — to support the New World system. The executive board then recommended that the Board of Commissioners sign the contract.
Motorola was supported by officials from Mishawaka, which used the company’s dispatch software for several years until New World’s system was launched.
Russ Haimbaugh, assistant chief of the records division at the Mishawaka Police Department, was a member of the committee that rated the dispatch systems.
As part of that process, he said, a group of dispatchers, firefighters and police officers watched demonstrations of the systems. He said there wasn’t any support for New World.
“All of them commented on the fact that they thought it was cumbersome and difficult,” Haimbaugh said. “But Todd disregarded their input, and that’s where we ran into a problem.”
Haimbaugh blames Geers for leaving behind a big mess to clean up.
“He did the county a total injustice by getting us involved with New World,” Haimbaugh said.