UPDATE: Police Chief Bart Davis' response to Jennifer Meggs, CEO of Southern Software, has been added to this article.
The Carthage Police Department is transitioning to a new cloud-based computer platform, becoming the first law enforcement agency in Moore County to cut ties with local vendor Southern Software.
Addressing the Carthage Board of Commissioners on Aug. 17, Police Chief Bart Davis said the department repeatedly asked Southern Software for upgrades that never came. One promised feature, he said, would have allowed local officers to view the location of vehicles from other law enforcement agencies on a digital map.
“When it was sold to us from Southern Software, we were told that we’d be able to see everybody,” he said. “The advantage there is if someone gets into a situation, regardless of if they’re with the Carthage PD or the Sheriff’s Office or another agency, we can respond quickly because we know exactly where they are.”
Davis said the feature didn’t work for the department. The map, he said, would occasionally show local officers in places they had left hours earlier.
“We’ve never been able to see everybody like they promised us we’d be able to see everybody,” he said. “It’s just been things like that along the way: a lot of promises made that never happened.”
But Jennifer Meggs, CEO of Southern Software, contends that the police department never brought those concerns to the company’s attention.
“We have not been contacted about anything they needed that they did not have,” Meggs said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We’ve got records on file showing that we have not received any (requests). They’ve got everything that everyone else in the county has, and those agencies have not had any trouble.”
In a phone interview on Thursday, Davis maintained that his department had shared its concerns with Southern Software.
“I’m not really sure how they have records of not receiving requests,” he said. “We had made contact on several occasions over the years to express some of the issues and problems we were having,”
Meggs noted that Southern Software does not control which law enforcement agencies’ vehicles are visible to the police department. The location data, she said, is only shared by agencies that elect to share it.
“The other agencies have to be willing to allow another agency to see where their people are located,” she said. “Our customers own their own software and they control it with their setting permissions. It’s not something we have any control over at all.”
This issue, Davis said, is that Southern Software used the feature as a selling point.
“I understand what she’s saying, however it was not sold to us in that fashion,” Davis said. “It was sold to us with the promise that we would be able to see everyone in the field, and it was not mentioned that (the feature) could be turned off.”
Founded in 1988 by former County Commissioner Nick Picerno, Southern Software has for years been the preferred vendor for local law enforcement agencies. Many of the company’s employees previously worked in public safety.
The Carthage Police Department is moving to a platform developed by SOMA Global of Florida. Davis told town leaders that the new system is “leaps and bounds beyond” the server-based software the agency has used since the early 2000s.
“Server-based software is just not going to do it for us anymore,” he said during last month’s meeting of the Carthage Board of Commissioners. “That’s old technology, and Southern Software is not anywhere near moving toward a cloud-based solution.”
But Meggs said Southern Software’s platform can be “put in the cloud as well.” Switching vendors, she said, will affect the police department’s ability to collaborate with other agencies.
“They’ve put themselves on an island so they can’t even share data with the rest of the county,” Meggs said.
Davis, however, said there’s currently no data-sharing between local agencies, and he disputed Meggs’ claim about the company’s cloud-based offerings.
“We’ve been customers of Southern Software for 25 years,” Davis said. “If they have a cloud-based solution and found out we were looking for one, why wouldn’t they come to us? I simply don’t think it exists. As a matter of fact, I know it doesn’t exist. They may have some cloud-based services that they offer, but it’s not related to any public safety software.”
Buck Mims, a Carthage auxiliary officer who runs the National Public Safety Group in Aberdeen, assured the commissioners that SOMA will provide the department with “leading-edge technology.”
“I have great respect for the people of Southern Software, but their technology is just older,” Mims said. “It’s not personal. It’s about having better public safety, and people forget that a lot of times.”
Meggs suggested there were other factors at play, but she declined to elaborate.
“We have our own opinion as to what’s really going on there behind the scenes,” she said. “It’s not surface-level, is all I’ll say.”
Davis took issue with her suggestion. He noted that Meggs has not made contact with him or any other member of the Carthage Police Department.
“There’s nothing going on behind the scenes except a chief making the decisions he’s supposed to make to have the best software for his officers and provide the best service to the citizens,” Davis said.