Swintec typewriters and the NYPD

You may have seen the recent New York Post article Typewrite & Wrong: NYPD ‘Wastes’ $1M on Relics by Jeremy Olshan, or perhaps you saw it referenced on BoingBoing. As written, it’s a perfect marriage of web-ready themes: government waste and the failure of institutions to rapidly adopt digital technology. “The city is plunking down nearly $1 million…” Olshan writes, “for the purchase of thousands of new manual and electric typewriters over the next three years.”

I wrote Swintec to ask them about this article, and also to inquire about their product line, which includes clear cabinet typewriters, designed for use in correctional institutions. Ed Michael, Sales Manager for Swintec, responded with some interesting clarifications about modern typewriter technology and the deal with the NYPD:

Hello Cheryl:

Thanks for your interest in Swintec Typewriter Company after reading the article in the NY Post on Monday July 13, 2009 entitled “Typewrite & Wrong, NYPD ‘Wastes’ $1M on relics.”

First of all, let me clear up the misconceptions, mistakes and misgivings the New York Post printed in its article. Columnist Jeremy Olshan misstated the name of the contract, which is “Typewriters: Manual and Electronic,” not “Manual and Electric.” There is a big difference between electric typewriters and electronic typewriters.

The duration of the contract is 5 years, not 3 years. The longer duration spreads out the contract amount for 5 years, which makes the annual amount much less; besides the contract amount is only posted as an approximate value. The City is not bound in any way to purchase the value of the contract. In a depressed economy, the City does not have to spend the money in the contract at all; however, what expenditure it does have to spend is done at a contract rate rather than a retail rate, and that makes a big difference.

He (Jeremy Olshan) intimates that the NYPD is purchasing old manual and electric typewriters that are outdated relics from Swintec. Nothing is further from the truth. The portion of the contract that Swintec is responsible for is the Electronic Typewriter portion wherein we list 3-Swintec Electronic typewriters with Display, Memory and Spellproof and 2-Swintec Word Processors with 15″ Monitors, Disk Drives and Interfaced Electronic Typewriters. These are high tech electronic office machines, not old electric or manual typewriters.

In fact, the name of the contract is also misleading, as the Manual Typewriter portion of the contract bid was not bid on at all, so it was not awarded to anyone. There are no manual typewriters on the NYC contract for “Typewriters: Manual and Electronic.” He (Jeremy Olshan) also lists the suggested retail price of the typewriters as a point of reference. Of course, the contract price is much lower than the retail price, since it is a competitive bid type of contract. The contract is very cost effective for the city to utilize, and the contract provides for all necessary supplies such as ribbons, correction tapes, print wheels, and extended warranty at very affordable prices, so the statement that he placed in the article, “We have to sneak around the rest of the precinct in search of a ribbon to steal,” is absolutely ludicrous. The NYPD Quartermaster keeps inventory on all supplies that the police officers and detectives need. All they have to do is call their Quartermaster Sergeant to have the necessary supplies sent over.

We are proud to hold this contract and we feel we are doing a great service for the City of New York in providing these Swintec electronic typewriters and Word Processors to fulfill the requirements of their daily applications and needs. We not only have equipment at the police department, we also have our typewriters and word processors in numerous other agencies in NYC. The applications we support are many. The Word Processors allow the person using the machine to program in forms such as Purchase Orders into the typewriter portion and then complete the order on the monitor screen, then, place the form into the typewriter and press print, and the complete form is filled out automatically from top to bottom without any errors.

The typist can place a multiple-part form into the typewriter, and by using the display, can type the necessary information onto the display. While they are entering the info, the typewriter will Spellproof as they are typing and will alert the typist when a mistake is sensed. At that point, the display will offer the correct spellings of a list of words that could be the correct words and will replace the selected word automatically onto the display. When the typist wants to print onto the form, there is a key labeled “Print” on the keyboard and will print the display information onto the form, again, without mistakes. We offer several models to NY City on this contract and all come with a 1-year warranty with an optional 1-year extension.

Our 8500C/7000 60K SC word processor and 8500C/2600 60K SC word processors are full-fledged word processors. They are comprised of a Swintec model 7000C typewriter or a Swintec 2600C typewriter interfaced to an 8500C word processor/ floppy disk drive with a 15″ full-screen monitor. This entire package sits nicely on a desk return and makes a very useful device for a secretary or clerk dedicated to doing daily typing chores. The applications available on the 8500 are many: Forms-Fill-In, Mail Merge, memos, letters, envelopes, lists, special documents with page numbering, headers, footers, and more. The only application it does not do is go onto the internet. In some applications, that is important, especially when used inside prisons for inmate use in Law Libraries.

The 2640SC and 7040SC are typewriter models with Display/Memory. The 2640SC has a 40-character display with a memory capacity of 112,000 characters (approx. 56 pages) permitting the typist to prepare a document in memory and then save it to come back at a later time, then to open it up to add to it or complete it and then print it. Forms can be programmed into the memory of this typewriter remembering exactly where to move to and stop to allow the typist to enter the necessary data and then will move automatically to the next printing field and so on to the end of the form. The Swintec 7040SC has the same functions as the 2640SC except that it offers a larger carriage of 17″ for wider forms.

Seven years ago we developed several “Swintec Clear Cabinet Typewriters” for use in prisons by inmates. The purpose for the clear cabinet is to eliminate a hiding place for the contraband that is a huge problem in prisons. Weapons, drugs, notes, and anything that is not permitted inside a prison is considered contraband. It is the responsibility of the corrections officer to keep each inmate’s cell as contraband-free as possible. He must search every inmate’s possessions on a regular basis. It has been necessary in the past to disassemble the typewriters completely to be sure there is nothing hidden inside and then put them back together. If a typewriter is damaged in the process, the prison must pay for it to be repaired. Both the time and cost of repair are very costly. Our Clear Cabinet typewriters solved 2 problems; very little time is required to look over a clear typewriter to see if anything is hidden inside, and it is not going to be damaged because it does not have to be taken apart.

We make several models available for inmates. The 2410CC is a basic non-memory clear typewriter with no storage memory for prisons that do not permit typewriters with memory.

The 2416DM CC models come in 6 memory capacities: 4K, 7K, 16K, 32K, 64K, and 128K, where K stands for thousand. 4K is 4,000 and 128K is 128,000 characters of storage. The average business letter is approximately 2000 characters.

The inmates in their cells either own these clear typewriters or they are placed in the Law Library and shared by inmates during their library time for use to prepare their litigation or for general typing.

There are also larger models of clear typewriters more suited for heavy-duty use by multiple users with and without memory. These are the 2600CC and the 2640CC.

We developed numerous applications in the past for classroom use and for word processing. When a special application needs to be solved, we often have a solution for completing it on one of our elecronic typewriter or word processor models.

Swintec has been working with government accounts since 1985 and has been in existence since 1973 when we started with a line of electronic calculators. We were the first typewriter company to place an electronic typewriter on Federal Contract as a sole source vendor in 1985.

You can see the entire line of Swintec products on our web site, www.swintec.com.

If you have any questions, feel free to call or write at any time. We will be glad to speak with you.

Warmest Regards,

Edward A. Michael

Sales Manager
Swintec Corporation
320 West Commercial Ave
Moonachie NJ 07074
(201) 935-0115 ext 313
(201) 935-6021 fax
1-800-225-0867 ext 313

If I read this correctly, The New York Post misrepresented:

  • The technology being purchased
  • The length of the contract
  • The cost of the typewriters to be paid by the NYPD
  • Whether the typewriters are maintained or serviced
  • Whether the NYPD was obligated to/intended to buy $1M of merchandise

Well, at least it made for an exciting headline. It’s too bad though–whether and how institutions can modernize paperwork processing could be an interesting topic.


  1. Nup

    Wow, that was quite the response! I guess they are in damage control mode after that article. But if what they say is correct, then that article definitely ignored some key facts about the contract that makes the whole article inaccurate. I am surprised they didn’t have the headline “Swintec Swindles City”.

    I kind of want one of those clear prison typewriters. I think it would be really cool to see the mechanisms working while you typed. Sort of like the original iMac that you could see through.

  2. If you haven’t done so already you should send a copy of the letter to the Post (the author and his supervisors) and BoingBoing. Also a briefer post to the Comments sections of the articles.

    So why are newspapers failing…?

  3. Any northeasterner will tell you the NY Post is hardly the arbiter of carefully-researched news. It’s about a tenth of a notch above the National Enquirer (they even look alike).
    Your blog post, with the clarifying letter from the company does far more justice to the topic. Why not send the Swintec letter to the NY Times, instead?

    I think the newspapers that fail are the ones that self-undermine, thus ruining their credentials.

  4. The NY Post has a history of just making stuff up when the facts don’t agree with the angle they’re looking for. (I realize that I sound a lot like a conservative talking about the NY Times, but as Speculator mentions, the Post is a tabloid disguised as a newspaper, one of Rupurt Murdoch’s propaganda mouthpieces.)

    Great followup, Cheryl! Now post a link to this in the article’s comments.

    I’ve been toying with buying one of their clear-case typewriters for my collection. Their mention of it only rekindles the flame.

  5. This was a far more reasoned response than the one I had, which was basically to snort derisively and then go “Oh, it’s in the Post. No wonder.” Somehow, it does not surprise me that that fish-wrap played fast and loose with the Actual Facts, being that the Actual Facts are rather dull reading.

    And it does not surprise me in the least that the police department — that any public service — is not running the latest-greatest-gee-whizzery gadgets. As Mr. Michael pointed out, money doesn’t exactly flow like water through these agencies, and I’m sure that have typewriters on-hand for these forms does — at least in the short term — make more fiscal sense that an all-over automation project, with all the equipment, training, and inevitable debug time that entails.

    Verify word: slytopie: stealthily sneaking a fresh-baked dessert from the proverbial windowsill. “Man, I was totally sly-to-pie with those donuts in the breakroom.”

  6. “I’m sure that have typewriters on-hand for these forms does — at least in the short term — make more fiscal sense that an all-over automation project, with all the equipment, training, and inevitable debug time that entails.”

    Not to mention that a police department that has been through two major blackouts in the last few decades and one system-disrupting terrorist attack is no doubt acutely aware of the need for emergency backup systems.

    Word verification: poodo: how a Unix admin’s kid soils his diaper.

  7. Am I the only one entirely confused by this whole business?

  8. Basically, the New York Post wrote an article about the New York Police Department buying typewriters from Swintec (inference being, this was a waste of money for outdated technology). The author of the Post article described the deal between the Post and Swintec incorrectly, inflating and distorting some details to make the expenditures seem more costly and the technology more useless. I verified this by checking the facts about the deal with Swintec.

  9. What do you expect? It’s the New York Post. A trashy rag. We have an equivalent here in Boston – The Boston Herald. I think they’re owned by the same company, actually.

    The upside is that bird owners everywhere have plenty of cage liner.

  10. Anonymous

    This story annoys me to no end. One, with the Post implying that this is some sort of boondoggle. Two, with BoingBoing taking the stance that newer technology is automatically better technology.

    As the whole business of voting machines demonstrates, sometimes a paper trail is a very good thing. Duh.

    Thanks for this followup, ST!

  11. @Nup:
    I kind of want one of those clear prison typewriters. I think it would be really cool to see the mechanisms working while you typed. Sort of like the original iMac that you could see through.

    Yea, I was thinking the same thing, except I don’t want to “do the time” in order to see the inside of the mechanism from the inside of a prison.:)

    Good journalistic follow-through, Cheryl.


    Word Verification: “mireviat”; a diplomat who specialises in leaving situations worse than before he arrived.

  12. Interesting, defiantly a good follow through indeed. I think the electronic typewriters though are, well, EH. It’s to bad the manuals arn’t taken more seriously. I think if there was a crisis a manual typewriter would be the one to count on.
    Another thing is those carbon ribbons. If you were to take one apart, you could literally read everything someone previously wrote. Try doing that with a manuals ribbon! Also with the electronic memory there would be no mistakes and reading the ribbon would be easy as pie.

  13. bikethru

    Nice follow-up. I had seen a version of the story which found its way to the Times via the New York Times from CNN. The illustration on the CNN story proves the old adage that a misleading picture is worth a thousand misleading words. It purports to show a NY cop using what looks like a Lettera 32. I thought it couldn’t be true, and it isn’t. Go to gettyimages.com, do a search for ‘typewriter’, then refine it with Location: Portugal. Far from being a cop in NY in 2009, the guy in the CNN picture is a sports reporter at a football match in Guimaraes in 2004. It’s still a story: a sports reporter in 2004 still using a Lettera, with its CR lever missing so he has to advance the paper with the platen knob? My kinda guy. It would be great to find out who he is. The Getty caption doesn’t name him, and a quick Google, sorry internet search, turned up nothing. I’ll email Getty, but meantime anyone recognise him?

    Word verif: volaten: voice-operated platen (extremely rare).

  14. Thanks for posting this, Cheryl! 🙂

  15. Excuse me: did one of you ring for In-Home Devil’s Advocate service?

    Just curious why the assumption is that the Post is getting it completely wrong (other than the fact that – you know -it’s a newspaper). The Post is certainly (one would hope, in a Randian sort of way) in the business of making money by selling newspapers. Swintec is in the business (ditto) of making money selling typewriters and typewriter contracts (and in defending those contracts against what is likely now to be enormous pressure on the part of NYPD to cancel those contracts).

    Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

    Besides: electronic typewriters are for stoopid.

    (Except see-through ones, which are kinda cool.)

    ((And, seriously, cool for Swintec to go to all that trouble to respond. Did you have to represent yourself in some particularly offical-sounding way to get that response? Just curious.))

  16. Oh, there’s no mistaking the spin in the Swintec reply, but I can see how the Post skipped the less paper-selling details.

  17. Why yes, I have been expecting your call. 🙂

    I’m actually neutral on whether the technology is appropriate, or the NYPD should upgrade their technology. Those are actually good topics for a fact-based debate. My issue is only with the Post reporting facts incorrectly to enhance their story (on the assumption that Swintec is correctly representing its contract, which I believe it has no reason not to, esp. in a letter to me). In this sense, the Post is not doing its job– it is a newspaper, and it is not supposed to print unverified facts. We all know that this is not exactly the way journalism works in the real world, but I think dishonest reporting is especially pernicious in the internet age, because countless other “news” outlets on the web continue to echo falsehoods as gospel (as happened in this case). It amounts to a bit of libel against Swintec, in my opinion, although I am no lawyer.

  18. Oh, forgot to answer the question about my initial inquiry to Swintec. I just basically wrote them an e-mail asking about clear case typewriters, and their opinion on the Post article. I identified myself as a typewriter blogger, which is probably an anti-credential, wouldn’t you agree?

  19. bikethru

    Duffy Moon: you’re right that Swintec is not impartial here, but Strikethru still has a legit beef about the Post coverage. It could have quoted Swintec more fully, but I suspect it was more interested in pumping up a little outrage with the ‘relics’ headline (note that although the headline says NYPD ‘wastes’ money on ‘relics’, neither word appears anywhere in the copy). Same with the pic on the CNN version: it would have spoilt the fun to show an electronic typewriter (not relic-y enough). Much better to show a guy pounding a mechanical clunker with the top missing, never mind that he’s a sports reporter on a different continent, not an NY cop.

  20. Having previously worked for a number of years as chief of security for a college and with a local police department I can say that the use of typewriters in organizations such as law enforcement is necessary because of the need to use multi-part carbonless forms with different colored pages. You can’t put these through a laser-jet.

    The technology has been updated as described so that you’re basically entering the info onto a computer screen and can spell check, etc., But the mechanical aspect of the acual printing is needed.

    This is also the reason why numbering forms such as raffle tickets, dog licences, etc. is still done on platen presses even though the multi-part forms themselves are printed on offset presses. After the basic form is printed and assembled they are run through the platen press and numbered using mechanical numbering machines locked up in the chase.

    The forms used by law enforcement and similar organizations require the neatness of typing, thus the procurement of typewriters. Dog licenses and such are usually filled out by hand.

  21. Rich, interesting perspective. Clearly, there was a lot more to this story than that lazy reporter wanted to deal with.

  22. Anonymous

    well, last time i checked(approx 3hrs ago) the type writer in the complaint room did not have any word processing capabilities. And as for the whole quartermaster having ribbon, Good luck getting one from there when you are in a pinch…

  23. Yes, I imagine most places have old Selectrics or something similar and can’t afford the latest thing. That was certainly my experience. We maintained the old “spinning ball” machine right alongside the Dell computer.

  24. Well, the Word Processor 8500C they sell costs 1,678.00$ in retail. It comes with a 15″ CRT-Monitor [sic!] and a 3.5″ Floppy Drive, which isn’t produced anymore. So you tell me they don’t rip off the city? Besides, the guy writing the letter was talking about selling high tech devies. Yeah, fuckin hightech 25ye
    ears ago!!

  25. Anonymous

    It’s been said you cannot believe everything you read. I will never read the New York Post. How could they be so wrong?!

    Thank to Swintec for making memory typewriters available for purchase by inmates. Everyone needs creative outlets and those in our overcrowded prisons can especially benefit from having a typewriter.

    We should save ourselves a lot of money by requiring rehab, drug, and education programs that are proven to reduce the recidivism rate. Even more important than helping ex-offenders from returning to prison is that they reduce new crime and the number of new victims.

    Thanks again.

  26. Anonymous

    For those who complain about the technology, remember the typewriters are for inmates who, at least in California, can order only two ink pens in their quarterly package. (Even then, not all inmates have someone to buy them a quarterly package.) For a while, they could not even order toothpaste because of a stupid rumor that they would cover cardboard pieces with toothpaste, and let it harden into a sharp weapon. Imagine a toothpaste weapon!

    Thankfully, inmates can now purchase typewriters as their allowed appliance. Typewriter or hot pot, which to choose?

    We need to work on allowing inmates to have Kindles so are not limited to only 10 books at time. Books help rehabilitate.