Dallas Cops' Crappy New Software Has Also Been Cutting Off the Public's Access to Crime Reports

Categories: Crime

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Dallas Police Department
Major Scott Bratcher in a press conference last month, explaining the department's computer woes.
Many homeowners on Swiss Avenue have been victims of patio furniture theft this summer. Exactly how many items of furniture were stolen, who the criminals are and who complained about it remain a mystery. There are no reports. We just know there were patio furniture thefts because people are saying so.

The situation is "an epidemic," the president of the Swiss Avenue Historic told NBC.

Dallas Police Deputy Chief Gary Tittle added in comments to The Dallas Morning News that "it really jumped on our radar about a month ago."

But we here at Unfair Park will not report on the patio furniture thefts until we get the crime reports telling the full story. Where are the reports? Not with us. These, along with the reports for every crime that occurred this summer, are currently lost in the great Dallas Police Department Software Transition of 2014.

Cops' unfamiliarity with their new software system became apparent in the middle of June, when announced that they accidentally set free three inmates who weren't supposed to go free. The new software system did it, they said.

Major Scott Bratcher explained in a somber news conference that "this system is probably the greatest change in the way we do things in the police department." (We assume he was also including the department's attempts to curb officer-involved shootings in that broad brushstroke.) "We're changing the way we report every incident, the way we categorize the information and the way we manage our cases from here on out. And it all changed in one minute."

The transition isn't just freeing inmates. It's also cutting off the public's ability to browse crime reports. We all used to be able to hop on the Dallas Police Department's website and search crimes with as little information as a date or a street name. But now, if you try searching the site for any crimes that occurred after June 1, it's blank. Even cops are having trouble accessing it from their own portals.

A few days ago, we called the department's media line to get more information about a shooting that happened during a robbery, briefly described in a Dallas Morning News story.

The nice officer who answered the phone asked for a report number; we didn't have it. We gave her the address instead. She said she'd try to look up the crime that way then give a call back. "We do have access, it just takes way longer than what it used to," she said.

About 10 minutes later, she called back as promised but couldn't locate the address initially. Eventually she found a match. The detective arrived on the scene, she read from the report. "He met with the officers at scene and ... Where is the narrative?" There was no narrative, it turned out. The report wasn't done yet, after all, and she had nothing left to read us.

What about the patio furniture thefts? With no date other than after June 1, could she locate some of the patio furniture theft crime reports and read us all the details over the phone? "That's going to take a lot longer," she explained, referring us to Sergeant Warren Mitchell. He said we'd need to file an open records request since it would take officers considerable time to browse their reports searching for patio furniture. We've decided not to do that.

He also referred us to a blog post published on the Dallas Police Department site on July 1, the date the kinks in the system were supposedly scheduled to be smoothed over. It was not encouraging:

We understand that it is important for watch groups, the media, and the general public as a whole to access report information online in a timely manner. However, because of some process issues as well as unfamiliarity with a new system, we have run into some unexpected delays.

Maybe the kinks will be worked out by August 1, but no one can say for certain yet, and Dallas doesn't appear to be breaking public records law right now

"Agencies don't really have a requirement to affirmatively release information until someone requests it," Texas Civil Rights Project staff attorney Brian McGiverin tells Unfair Park. Hopefully the Dallas Police Department won't get any ideas from the other police agencies that demand you show up in person and make a request in writing before accessing a report.

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noblefurrtexas topcommenter

Dallas Police, at least in private, readily acknowledge they can't protect citizens, or prevent much crime - especially in neighborhoods.  So, that is one of several reasons why it makes sense to own a gun, and get a concealed carry permit.

But, citizens also have a right to be safe, and to know where and what problem areas and high crime areas exist, where, and why.  So, it's critical for Neighborhood Watch groups, homeowners associations, and interest citizens, to continue being able to pull up the crime reports database. 

Once again, projects under the current chief are often a disaster.  (Reminds us of ObamaCare computer prowess.) 

The DPD must get this fixed, and restore access to crime reports to anyone who cares and wants to research them. 

The more eyes looking out for neighborhoods, the safer they will be. 



When this thing was first dropped on us some of us were trained a year before it was first used. After we got the hang of it new problems cropped up. We can't read reports in squad cars any more, which makes figuring out some crimes impossible. Detectives tell me they get cases 2 or 3 days after we make them because Staff Review is struggling with the terrible software. Crime trends are impossible to figure out from it because it is so hard to use and we have to go back to station and wait for a computer and use another software package totally different from the one in the car. In the old system beats were assigned to offenses and addresses were verified. Not now. I've seen offenses from across town listed on my beat. I feel like we'd be better off with typewriters and carbon paper. Someone on the 6th floor really messed up.

noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@dallascop It is an insult to the news media, insurance companies, security companies and especially Dallas citizens to be told they have to file a Freedom of Information request to get crime reports and statistics.  This not only delays the timeliness of this information, but it virtually prevents being able to cross-reference the information to look for trends. 

Somebody in the City Manager's office, as well as DPD, is asleep at the switch. 

I also agree with bvcks that we need to know the company (or companies) who was supposed to update the DPD computer system, but also how much they were paid and how they were supervised.

I'm also curious why the Mayor and City Council haven't already complained loudly about this, and made an effort to have it repaired as quick as possible.

ozonelarryb topcommenter

"The shitty that works" for damn sure.

Whose cousin or church buddy got this software contract?

What colossal fuckups. And they still find time to harass car washes.


@bvckvs  At this point in the screw up especially with weak management, no shortage of spotlight exists.  I am sure county and city managers are bellowing like water buffaloes, anything to transfer blame.  As expected, they are doing it incorrectly.  Now is the wrong time to assign blame, something the government civil service workers wasted time doing at start of portal mess because they do not know any other way.  The President had to get someone from private industry to focus on fixes with the idea that executions will follow in a few months.

It is critical that our mediocrities understand the process that includes vendor review.  Software changes, though never seen on Star Trek, are the critical events for every organization, especially government, for the foreseeable future. They better get with the program or we will see even larger failures in the future.


Seems like all of government has been having a damn tough time with technology these days.

Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Makes you wonder what else they have implemented and not tested or trained their staff for.


Has Dallas City or County ever done a major software change in last 15 years that the either did not completely screw up?  Private world has figured these things out as a fairly standard process.  You have to follow the rules.  The most important rule is lock down the specs.  Do not allow ignorant executives to add "one more thing."  It was the biggest mistake of the ACA portal.  The second is test, test, test.  Do not allow ignorant execs to violate rule 1 and then not have enough time to do rule 2.  Given the mediocrity of our municipal leaders, dollars will get you donuts they were screwing up the process, violating both rules. 

noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@MikeWestEast The County screwup on new software and computers are STILL being worked out, and at about three or four times the cost allowed for new computers and software. 

This is beyond irresponsible.  It's incompetent.

wcvemail topcommenter

No accountability for the failure, either on the part of DPD or the implementing company or the original vendor (sometimes they are the same, sometimes different.) It's good to sell crap to the city.

everlastingphelps topcommenter

I wondered what happened.  I give the reporting area I live in a quick browse about once a month.

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