by TANYA EISERER
On June 1, the Dallas Police Department launched its new records management system, replacing its decades old mainframe. The Dallas Police Department acknowledged they’re having difficulties with the new systems, but News 8 has learned the problems are much more widespread and systemic.
Here’s just a few of the issues: Reports vanishing into cyberspace. Hundreds of unprocessed reports. Cases funneled to the wrong units. Detectives not getting cases for days, delaying justice for victims. Prisoners going free because cases weren’t filed in time with prosecutors.
In an exclusive interview with News 8 Tuesday, Police Chief David Brown acknowledged the rollout of the new system has been frustrating for him and the rest of the police department.
“We recognize that this is not acceptable,” he said. “We’re highly frustrated, but we’re doing all that we can to make it right. People have been released who should have been in jail and we’re pursuing them and we’re just not going to stop doing our job because of our new system … We’re asking the citizenry to bear with us until we get through this.”
Some of the issues are the result of user error while others are software glitches, the chief said.
The chief also said the speed of the system isn’t fast enough to keep up with the amount of data that’s entered into it. He blamed the recent prisoner releases on that issue, and said one release is too many.
“We’ve got some workarounds to ensure that doesn’t happen,” he said. “Most of its manual and very labor intensive. We’re paying people overtime.”
City council member Philip Kingston said he’s deeply concerned about the current state of things.
“This system was supposed to save time, save officer resources so that those resources could be more effectively applied to crime fighting and increased transparency,” he said. “If it’s not doing that, we need to know why.”
Kingston also said he was particularly upset about the glitches that led to the release of prisoners.
“I’m not in a position where I can say David Brown needs to bring me answers,” he said. “Somebody needs to bring me answers definitely, but the more important question is it’s not so much me getting answers, it’s getting the system implemented in a way that keeps the public safe.”
Last week, police only admitted that three property crime prisoners went free because cases weren’t filed in time with prosecutors. Now, they’re admitting there were more releases following a News 8 review of police arrests.
Five of those identified by News 8 had been arrested on felony family violence cases, including a man accused of choking his former girlfriend as she drove with their 1-year-old grandchild in the back seat. A sixth was accused of robbery. A seventh was arrested on a drug charge, but he’s still in custody because he wasn’t in the country legally.
Sources tell News 8 that a big part of the problem is that all reports now go through one centralized unit. The staffing of that unit was not beefed up and it’s created a bottleneck, causing hundreds of reports to go unprocessed in a timely manner.
Officers say the unit is so overworked that it sometimes takes hours to reach someone to have a stolen car entered into the National Crime Information Center. They say that’s a safety issue for officers who could encounter that car.
One patrol said he called the unit more than 90 time over a nearly two-hour period trying to reach someone to enter a stolen vehicle. His partner called more than 50 times.
Police sources also say the two-hour deadline to enter missing children into a NCIC is now routinely missed. That’s a federal requirement and could make a life or death difference.
The Texas Department of Public Safety audits the department every six months. The worst case scenario is that a department could lose its NCIC access.
Getting a child into the NCIC database quickly is important even if they’re a runaway, says Leonard Garza, a retired missing persons detective. Runaways are at a high risk of being abducted or forced into prostitution.
“Timing is of the essence,” Garza said. “It needs to be put in there immediately because you never know when a runaway may turn into something more. It’s happened before.”
The city paid $4 million to Alabama-based Intergraph for the system. The company said in a statement that “replacing a decades old system is a major undertaking that will benefit the agency and the community … We’ll continue to support Dallas Police as they transition to their new, improved system.”
Brown hopes a permanent fix to the system’s speed will soon be found.
“We expected that there would be a significant learning curve,” he said. “We had a system for 30 years. It was outdated, antiquated and not easily worked on if we had problems with it. It would go down all the time, but it was familiar and this system is very unfamiliar and so we’re going to have errors … We’re just working through it as diligently as we can.”
Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, says a permanent fix for Dallas’ woes is probably years down the line.
San Antonio bought Intergraph’s records management system about five years years and it’s been fraught with problems since the day it went live.
“We had situations where reports would get lost,” Helle said. “At point, we had over three or thousand reports that were lost in a kind of cyberspace. Initially we weren’t aware that these reports were getting lost until citizens were complaining that they weren’t able to get their reports, detectives were complaining that they couldn’t find their reports and even officers themselves couldn’t find their own reports.”
The system repeatedly crashed and officers would lose work they had already done and have to start over.
“It was immediately apparent to us that the computer Intergraph could not support the infrastructure that they actually created, so the department had 10 full time detectives … working side by side with Intergraph to identify problems and assist them in solving them,” Helle said.
He said that went on for several years. Helle says the city paid Intergraph many millions more than the initial investment trying to get it to work right.
He said only within the last six months has the system reached a point of stability, though he describes it as still being on life support. To this day, there over a million duplicate entries and he said the city is going to have to pay another company to clean up the mess.
“We still have problems that keep popping up but they aren’t as horrific as they were for the last four or five years,” Helle said. “I wish the city of Dallas would have called me or called our police department to ask us how they felt about the system before they actually went all in and started to purchase it. I can tell you that your problems are just beginning.”