Atwater’s police computers so old, they’re a prone to cyber threats, says chief

As if operating out of a 50-year-old building with a fleet of aging cars weren’t bad enough, Atwater’s new police chief says some employees are using outdated, cyber-attack vulnerable computers.

Chief Michael Salvador unveiled a plan Monday to begin replacing the department’s computers, patrol cars and ultimately build a new police headquarters.

The department has some computers still operating on Windows XP, an old system that can’t access the state Department of Justice’s online database because those computers aren’t considered secure.

Another number of computers use a newer operating system, Windows 7, but those are soon to be considered security threats in December, Salvador said.

Patrol car laptops, radios and a number of other technologies used by the department are also old.

The average age of Atwater’s patrol cars is 13 years, Salvador said, adding they average 125,000 miles. “You definitely don’t want vehicles trying to roll (on) 911 calls, especially at high speeds,” he said.

All of these upgrades are improvements the police department should have been routinely implementing over the years, Salvador said. Many of them were left unaddressed as Atwater struggled with financial hardship. The city approached bankruptcy in 2012 and still operates on a more than $2 million deficit.

But Salvador insists there’s money to make the changes, or at least he’ll find a way to fund it. “I’m not sure that I don’t already have the money to do about 85 percent of this and that we’ve had the money,” he said. “All we had to do was to do it.”

Mayor Paul Creighton said city will remain within its spending plan and won’t put any more money towards those plans this year . “(Salvador is) finding areas in his budget that can be better used or re-prioritizing,” he said. “That’s really refreshing to hear that.”

The department of 25 sworn officers and 11 other employees are in a building that housed 12 employees when it first went up, Salvador said.

The heating and air conditioning wasn’t built with computer servers in mind and that room can get hotter than 100 degrees, the chief said. “That’s never good for thousands of dollars of electronic equipment,” he said.

That issue, as well as problems with the patrol and evidence rooms, could be solved with a new headquarters on the same site as the current one, he said. His plan would have the city begin building a new police station in the 2023-24 fiscal year. About that same time, Salvador said, he’ll be asking the City Council to add two sworn officers.

“This is a three to five year project. It can be done,” he said. “We already have the land. That’s half the battle.”

Also during the meeting, the council voted 4-1 to approve a new position for a project manager. Councilmember Brian Raymond voted “no.”

Councilmember John Cale said the new position and the chief’s plans were signs of an improving Atwater.

“Success doesn’t just happen. It’s planned out,” he said. “And we’re making that plan.”