Officials with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office say they are still feeling the effects of a computer virus that struck down all of Columbia County's computers nearly six months ago.
Lisa Cliett, Columbia County Sheriff's Department Records Bureau supervisor, sorts through scores of records to check the accuracy of the computer system that officials say has been plagued by a virus.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
That effect, they say, is uncertainty about their crime statistics for the past year.
The virus, which struck the county's computer network, was discovered July 31. At the time, officials said the virus would not harm any computer data.
Sheriff's officials, however, later said the virus seemed to have caused a problem with their ability to accurately document crime statistics for the year.
Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said that while compiling 2004's mid-year crime statistics in August, to compare to 2003's mid-year numbers, officials noticed some inconsistencies. The virus, combined with those discrepancies, led Sheriff Clay Whittle to question the accuracy of the numbers. Hand counting and confirming the numbers followed.
Despite the discrepancies, sheriff's office officials believe that overall crime rose slightly in the first six months of 2004.
Morris said he is nearly positive the kinks have been worked out and the end-of-the-year numbers are correct. But to be sure, he said Whittle has ordered extra precautions.
"Although discrepancies were noted last year, we have every reason to believe that all the bugs have been worked out and the data compiled for 2004 will be 100 percent accurate," Morris said. "To be certain, Sheriff Whittle has ordered random samplings of crime in several categories to make sure the data provided by our computers is accurate."
Sheriff's office employees are entering the last remaining reports from December into the computer and will begin hand pulling and counting reports for randomly selected sample crime categories.
Even though many of the discrepancies found in 2004 were minor, Morris said even the smallest fraction is important. He said the sheriff's office cannot and will not depend on numbers with a margin of error, even if it is a small margin.
"We need an accurate account of where crimes are occurring in order to channel the appropriate resources. And the community, everyone, deserves to know how much, what type and where crimes are occurring in Columbia County," Morris said. "We are not going to trust whatever the computer tells us, and say, 'That is what we are going with.'
"Sheriff Whittle has installed safeguards to make sure that what is presented is as 100 percent accurate as possible."
Morris said Whittle has meetings planned with computer equipment and software vendors in anticipation of a change not only in software, but also the entire sheriff's office computer system by the end of the year.
"We are not changing the system because of the crime reporting," Morris said. "It is a department-wide change. In other words, this will be a computer system department-wide, whether it is how we access the computer, how reports are entered into the computers, how information is researched. This could be not just a software enhancement but a complete overhaul or change in our current system."
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