Computer glitch causes crowding at city's central booking center

October 08, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

A surge in arrests and a computer crash led to such crowded conditions at Baltimore's central booking facility last weekend that cells were crammed far beyond capacity and police trying to bring in more arrestees were turned away, officials said yesterday.

Five people had to share cells built for one, bullpens designed for 20 held twice that number, and hundreds of arrestees were shackled in corridors late Friday and Saturday as officials at Central Booking and Intake Center struggled to handle arrestees without benefit of computers, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"It was overcrowded to the point of being dangerous," he said.

An increase in arrests by Baltimore police caused some of the crowding at the state-run facility, which processes an average of 268 arrestees a day, Sipes said. It handled 404 on Wednesday, 478 on Thursday and 314 on Friday, Sipes said.

The problem was compounded about 11 p.m. Friday, when the computer system used to book arrestees crashed, he said. The process of taking fingerprints and mug shots, checking names against outstanding warrants and conducting bail hearings slowed to a crawl as officials switched to a manual system, he said. What should have taken two hours per arrestee took three.

At 12:15 a.m., officials told police there was no more space and asked them not to bring in more arrestees until the situation was resolved, Sipes said; it took a few hours to shut down the system and restart it.

"At 2 a.m., they advised police to resume bringing offenders to central booking," Sipes said.

The computer problems resurfaced "sporadically" throughout Saturday, but the center did not have to turn away arrestees again, he said.

"We will be dramatically improving our network capacity, and we hope to have that done within 60 days," Sipes said.

No arrestees were released as a result of the booking delays, said Ragina C. Averella, spokeswoman for city police.

"Public safety was not affected," she said.

The surge in arrests was the result of "several crime-fighting initiatives," said Averella, who declined to elaborate.

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