The Reason Suspected Criminals Are Walking Free In Dallas Isn't Solely A 'New Software' Problem

from the the-all-new,-cuff-free-perp-walk dept

Any major entity switching over to new software is going to deal with some headaches, many of which will adversely affect those downstream from them. In most cases, this is little more than an inconvenience. But when it’s a police department upgrading its system, it means potentially violent criminals are walking free. (additional hat tip to That Anonymous Coward, who shot this link to me roughly the same time Mike Masnick did.)

Police in Dallas are scrambling after troubles involving a new records management system caused more than 20 jail inmates, including a number of people charged with violent crimes, to be set free.

Officials have downplayed the release of these suspects, with one of them (Deputy Chief Christina Smith) comparing the freeing of people booked on domestic violence charges to fiddling with dashboard controls.

“We kind of relate it to getting a new car,” Smith said. “You needed a new car, but you’re not familiar with where all the gadgets are on it.”

Others aren’t quite as sanguine.

“At this point, it does not appear to be a very user-friendly program,” said Richard Todd, the president of the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police.

In fact, Todd said, the software switch has been “a nightmare” and “a mess.”

While we reflect on the fact that it’s generally the police union president’s duty to deflect blame away from officers, let’s take a look at what’s really going on here.

Officials put some of the blame on Dallas County’s policy requiring them to file many cases within three days of an arrest. That includes domestic violence cases. Other violent offenses, such as robbery or murder, have 10-day limits.

That the system hasn’t been entirely helpful in meeting the 72-hour deadline is undoubtedly true. According to Deputy Chief Smith, the new software is dealing with a backlog of filings thanks to the switchover. But perps walking free because the proper paperwork wasn’t filed on time is nothing new for the Dallas Police Department.

Throughout the month of June, 224 felony defendants have been released from the Dallas County Jail because the filing deadlines were missed.

Since April, the number of felony suspects released totals 613.

Over 600 felony suspects released because cases weren’t filed on time, and the police department hands the public a list of 20 suspects (some facing non-felony charges) that didn’t make the 3-day filing deadline — and then blames it on the computer system.

The filing deadlines are there for a reason — to get police departments to comply with the “speedy trial” provision of the Constitution. Mandatory cutoffs are needed because without them, people would be held without charge until officers finally get around to filing the paperwork. If Dallas’ limits seem tight, it’s likely because the department has had problems in the past with adhering to reasonable deadlines.

A local judge points out that not once was he (or apparently anyone else) approached for extensions in the cases currently being blamed on the system upgrade. He also points out that he’s added breathing room to certain charges in the past, something that should have ensured the police filed reports on time.

That policy is set by the county’s judges. State District Judge Rick Magnis said there is nothing inherently wrong with the longstanding rule, and police and prosecutors can request extensions.

“The law is real simple,” Magnis said. “The Constitution in America says you can’t hold people without charges.”

Magnis said he changed some of the charges with three-day requirements to 10-day limits last August at the request of the DA’s office. He said judges would have likely changed the policy for domestic violence cases — if he had been asked.

“They certainly didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re having a problem. We need help,’” he said.

But it’s not as though Intergraph is completely blameless, either. The company has a long history of failures in the law enforcement market. San Antonio’s police chief calls the system Intergraph provided for his officers “disastrous.” New York City criticized the company last year for problems with its 911 support (and then inexplicably signed another software deal with it). A civil grand jury in San Jose investigated Intergraph in 2004, finding the response time provided by its computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system “unacceptable.”

There are two problems here — one is the DPD’s inability to meet filing deadlines with or without new software, and the other is the new software’s inability to perform as needed. Both are now working against each other, creating the sort of friction that dumps suspects right back on the street. Now, law enforcement resources are being expended to round up suspects they already had detained, limiting the amount of proactive policing being performed.

The software is serving at least one useful purpose right now — a lightning rod for criticism. But it’s not solely a software issue. It’s also a police issue. If the police are rounding up more people than it can process in a timely fashion (or prefer the thrill of the arrest to the mundanity of filing paperwork), it may look like it’s doing something useful, but the end result is nearly indistinguishable from doing nothing. Suspects are back on the street, uncharged and unburdened by the limitations that usually come with making bail.

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Companies: intergraph

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Comments on “The Reason Suspected Criminals Are Walking Free In Dallas Isn't Solely A 'New Software' Problem”

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AntiFish03 (profile) says:

Not the first CAD issue

Dallas did an upgrade in 2007 that led to a lot of issues. Including no vehicle or suspect data or delays in receiving it.

On one occasion as a rookie, less than a week out of the academy. At the beginning of a 10 hour shift I pulled over a car for running a stop sign. The computers yielded no information for the car or the driver. So, I wrote him a citation for running the stop sign and sent him on his way. About 8 hours into my shift, the servers crashed and had to be reset, they were back in a couple of minutes and officers were inundated with all the data requests they had made that day. The very first piece of data that I had requested was that car and its driver… Felony warrant out of DALLAS for Aggravated Assault on a Police officer… I had done a standard traffic stop on a guy that had a pretty good record of assaulting a police officer, thankfully I was not added to the list but it still causes me nightmares thinking about it.

If the new system they have is anything like the last upgrade it will be at least 2 months before officers can even trust the computer to give them accurate information. Or to actually be able to file reports using it an not just writing them by hand to be entered at a later date.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Also blame the systems integrators

When you make a major change to critical software systems, best practice dictates that you run the old system and the new system in parallel for a period of time — precisely so that when the inevitable problems emerge with the new software they won’t cause the entire operation to fail. This is particularly so when you’re switching to a software vendor that everyone knows is a bit dodgy (and, in any specialty market, everyone knows which ones are a bit dodgy.)

That the police department didn’t do this tells me that either their systems integrator was incompetent or that the the switchover was underfunded.

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