RI police depts. raise concerns about DMV computer system

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The top administrator at the R.I. Division of Motor Vehicles said Monday he plans to talk with law enforcement officials around the state after learning police departments have been raising concerns about how its new computer system retains information about unregistered vehicles.

Under a new system that went live in July, the names and addresses of individuals whose registrations are expired get deleted after 90 days, described as part of an effort to ensure the DMV has more accurate information on file.

But employees in some of Rhode Island’s largest police departments have told Target 12 the change has made it more difficult for them to track drivers, particularly when it comes to hit-and-run cases. Rather than running an expired plate and learning the address of a car owner the last time their car was registered, officers are being told the information is “not on file.”

“As you know, my background is law enforcement, so I’m very, very attuned to the needs of the officers on the street,” DMV Administrator Walter “Bud” Craddock told Target 12. “And again, we would go out of our way to try to make sure that they’re getting the information that they need. It’s just that we haven’t received proper notification that this is a problem.”

Craddock said the first time he learned of the concerns was when Target 12 raised questions about the computer system on Oct. 17, but he has been aware of conversations on the matter in recent weeks.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the DMV forwarded several emails between multiple members of the Rhode Island State Police, the R.I. Police Chiefs Association and the DMV regarding the issue.

In an email to the state police on Oct. 27, Sidney Wordell, the executive director of the chiefs association, explained that he has been “advised by a number of police chiefs that there are issues arising since the switch over to the new computer system.”

Wordell explained officers have resorted to calling the DMV Enforcement Division when they had questions about a registration, but the office is only open “during regular business hours.”

“Obviously having to call enforcement while on a traffic stop to get registration data is not practical and extends the time on a traffic stop significantly,” Wordell wrote.

In an email response on Oct. 30, Bill Guy, who handles technical services for the state police, explained that many of the concerns raised by Wordell had already been addressed.

But employees at police departments in Providence, Warwick and Pawtucket all told Target 12 last week that the “not on file” message for unregistered cars remains a challenge.

Warwick Police Maj. Rick Rathburn said the issue affects both enforcement and investigations, noting that without accurate information, it is difficult to “accurately diagnose an offense” for individuals driving on unregistered plates. On the investigation side, he said the issue makes it more difficult to track suspects in hit-and-run incidents or other cases.

Pawtucket Sgt. Timothy Graham said some his department’s dispatchers told him “they are having issues.” He said “unregistered plates are not coming back to the last registered vehicle like they used to.”

“Now they don’t come back to anything at all,” Graham said.

In an email, Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael Winquist said he believes “most the issues have been resolved or are in the process of being resolved by the RI DMV and State Police.”

In an interview Monday, Wordell told Target 12 he too believes some of the challenges have been resolved, but acknowledged “90 days is rather quick to remove [the registration information] from the system.”

Wordell called the problem an “unintended circumstance” in a system that is working well overall.

Craddock said he plans to meet with the police chiefs association in the next week to discuss the matter.

“We’ll sit and see if it’s something that can be done in the new system and try to accommodate to make sure they’re getting the information they need,” he said.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan