KCBD Investigates Data Disaster: City of Lubbock spends thousands to recover video evidence

Published: May. 16, 2023 at 10:56 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Video evidence is gone, and the City of Lubbock is working to get it back.

Our KCBD Investigates Team first broke this story in January, when we learned a city employee accidentally deleted hundreds of police body-worn camera videos and dash-camera videos.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson confirmed there was no malicious intent behind the server storage/retention error.

“That was chased down quite deliberately to be sure,” Atkinson said.

According to invoices obtained by the KCBD Investigates Team, the city hired Dell Technologies to help recover the videos.

To date, the city has paid Dell $28,800.

“While that is certainly significant money, and it is public money, in the scheme of even just the information technology budget, it is fractions and fractions and fractions of a single percent,” Atkinson said.

The information technology budget for FY 2022-2023 is $11,679,888.

“Do I wish we could put it somewhere else? Absolutely, but again, the mistake was a human mistake and that is not fixed by throwing a dollar at it. It is fixed by throwing different policies, and procedures, and fail-safes at it which is what IT has done,” Atkinson said.

Chief Information Officer James Brown said it is unknown just how many videos were deleted, but he said Dell has recovered 1,998 videos.

Brown said the department is working closely with the Lubbock Police Department and the district attorney’s office to identify priority cases so they can work to recover those videos first.

In 2020, an internal audit of the IT department found there was no written Strategic Plan or Disaster/Business Continuity Recovery Plan.

“A strategic plan is essential to the long-term success of the Information Technology Department,” the auditor wrote.

The City of Lubbock hired Sciens LLC to assist in the development of a Five-Year Strategic Technology Assessment Plan.

In July 2022, Sciens presented a $16.8 million plan that included expanding offsite backup storage to increase disaster recoverability and performing a competitive compensation study for IT staff.

“That highlights the investment we need to make both in people and in things. We are continuing to do both,” Atkinson said.

Sciens found the City of Lubbock’s IT salaries and overall compensation were not competitive compared to the region and consequently, the department is consistently losing staff.

“As a result, the department is constantly having to operate in a reactive environment, constantly finding and training new staff only to have them leave shortly after; not sustainable in the long term,” the study found.

The extensive analysis found several areas of the department were understaffed including applications, business analysis, and network.

According to the city’s website, there are currently three open positions in the department: an applications analyst, a network engineer, and a senior programmer analyst.

“IT is hard to recruit for and hard to retain. Our systems are quite a bit different than they would be in most private businesses,” Atkinson said. “Our IT department is not different from a whole lot of city departments. We have struggled as have many other businesses with vacancies and turnovers.”

Despite the challenges, Atkinson said the city’s overall vacancy rate has dropped from 11% a little more than a year ago, to less than 8%.

“Largely because of the Sciens report, we have put a tremendous amount into capital, about $9.5 million over the last couple of years. Some of that is American Rescue Plan dollars, a lot of that is local, city dollars,” Atkinson said.

We asked Atkinson what changes have been made to ensure data is not deleted again in the future.

“Mr. Brown and his team have made a lot of changes, things like not one single person being able to make a change where things are stored, how long they are stored as they move back and forth across the network,” Atkinson said.