Police blame computer glitch for dozens of mistaken visits to elderly NYC couple

Friday, March 19, 2010

NYC police: Computer glitch led to mistaken visits

NEW YORK — A senior New York City police official apologized Friday for the 50 or so door-pounding visits police made to the home of a bewildered elderly couple.

It seems a glitch in computer records had led them over and over to Walter and Rose Martin’s modest home in Brooklyn.

The most recent intrusion came Tuesday, with officers pounding on both the front and back doors, yelling “Police, open up!”

On Thursday, detectives from the NYPD’s Identity Theft Squad went to see the Martins again — this time to apologize. “And we wanted to be sure perps weren’t using that address for identity theft,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told The Associated Press on Friday.

The detectives told 82-year-old Rose and 83-year-old Walter that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had ordered them to solve the problem, which had gone on for at least four years and was reported this week in the New York Daily News.

Police used the Brooklyn address as part of what Browne called “random material” to test an automated computer system that tracks crime complaints and records other internal police information.

The couple first complained about the harrowing police visits in 2007, “and we identified the problem then,” Browne said. “It was a mistake by the police department.”

Police wiped the Martins’ address from the system.

Or so they thought, said Browne.

Instead, the visits continued.

Apparently, some computer files bearing the Martins’ address stayed in the system.

“We thought all the test data had been purged, but apparently it had not,” Browne said. “The Martins’ address ended up migrating to various complaint forms and warrant information.”

Most of the door-knocks came in 2006 and 2007, he said. After the latest visit, “We realized we still had a problem and went back and further purged the records,” the deputy commissioner conceded.

To make sure it will never happen again, Browne said the Martins’ address has been flagged with alerts, so if there’s any record indicating an officer should visit the address, “they’re barred from doing it.”

A skeptical Rose Martin has asked the department to write her an official letter to that effect.

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