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Computer system tells cops to arrest innocent people

Rhode Island police forced to ask suspects if they're really guilty

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Providence, Rhode Island police were forced to stop arresting people because their shiny new law enforcement network system was telling them to grab innocent people.

According to the Providence Journal when the new system went operational police found it had caused them to arrest eight people by mistake.

The Journal puts it exquisitely: "Coventry police officers have greeted the discovery of some warrants with a piece of advice rather than a pair of handcuffs: It looks as if you may be wanted for failing to pay fines, but we can't be sure, so we can't arrest you. But it would behoove you to go to court in the morning and pay the fines you owe - if you owe them."

The system, Justice Link, is the work of Oracle and Systems & Computer Technology Corp. It's being patched, at a cost estimated at $50,000, but consultants have so far found 350 mistakenly issued warrants on the system, and 1,500 past and present suspects are still mismatched on the system.

To be fair on Big O, this does sound suspiciously like a data entry error problem rather than dud software. Court records were transferred to the new system in December, but court workers didn't have time to weed the records adequately.

Last month Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger ordered police to check computer records against hard copy before making any arrests. ®

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