Dallas PD Hid Massive Data Deletion For Months From City Officials, District Attorney's Office

from the how-many-terabytes-can-be-swept-under-a-rug? dept

No one does a coverup like a cop shop. When a bunch of data — including criminal evidence — was deleted, the Dallas, Texas city council was pretty much the last to know about it.

On March 31, a city IT employee accidentally deleted troves of police data while transferring it to a new server. The deletion could potentially impact prosecutors’ ability to try the corresponding criminal cases. Top city officials including Broadnax and Police Chief Eddie Garcia became aware of the deletion, if not its scale, in April. It’s only in the last two weeks that the City Council and Dallas County District Attorney’s office learned about it.

That update was published by Dallas Magazine on August 19. That means those who did know didn’t tell their oversight for nearly four months. Some of this delay is almost explicable. Almost.

The Dallas PD originally thought it could recover the data, so the unexpected data deletion originally didn’t seem like a big deal. All the same, it would have made sense to inform the PD’s city oversight of the issue, just in case it turned out the data was lost for good.

This lack of communication — one that also kept the District Attorney’s office out of the loop — led to a city council meeting where the phrases “in hindsight” and “in retrospect” were thrown around by police officials. Hindsight and retrospect are pretty much useless in situations like these. It only prevents them from offering the same excuses the next time it happens. And let’s hope it doesn’t, because “troves of police data” is an understatement.

City officials discovered an additional 15 terabytes of Dallas police evidence and files from the city secretary’s office were missing during its ongoing audit of a massive erroneous data deletion, according to emails obtained Monday by The Dallas Morning News.

The city also fired an information technology employee Friday in connection with the lost evidence, according to the emails.

The discovery brings the total loss of files, as of Monday, to about 22.5 terabytes. The audit was initiated this month after Dallas County prosecutors learned an information technology employee improperly moved police evidence from a storage cloud to a local server resulting in the permanent loss of about 7.5 terabytes of information in April.

About 14 terabytes have been recovered from the botched data migration. And some of the files lost during the move from cloud storage to physical storage belonged to the city secretary’s office, which means this total includes files that didn’t come from the Dallas PD.

Despite not knowing the extent of everything lost until just recently, the Dallas Police Chief felt confident enough to claim the lost data did not include evidence about crimes against people. But the Dallas DA — rightfully — isn’t taking this statement at face value, considering the DA’s office was one of the last parties informed about the data loss. Multiple cases are now under review to determine whether they’re affected by the terabytes of data that are, so far, unrecoverable.

And that review process means the people tasked with taking criminals off the street are, for the time being, putting accused criminals back on the street.

A murder suspect was released from the Dallas County jail earlier this month because prosecutors said on the day of his trial that they needed more time to make sure his case wasn’t among those impacted. Last week, the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office called for independent audits for 18 murder cases.

While the eye-grabbing part of this story is the botched migration that resulted in the deletion of 23 terabytes, the more concerning aspect is the part that involves the shielding of a data catastrophe until it was impossible to keep it hidden any longer. Mistakes happen, but the decision to exclude the city council and, more disappointingly, the prosecutor’s office was deliberate. That shouldn’t be excused even if PD officials firmly believed the data deletion was reversible. There was always the chance that it wasn’t. People’s lives and freedoms are on the line and the DA’s office was kept out of the loop. This indicates the Dallas PD felt it was better to bury its 23-terabyte problem, rather than allow people affected by the sudden disappearance of evidence to find out about it.

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Comments on “Dallas PD Hid Massive Data Deletion For Months From City Officials, District Attorney's Office”

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Upstream (profile) says:


This is another one of those situations where one should look long and hard before applying Hanlon’s Razor. It is difficult to see how this could truly be accidental, and just the result of incompetence or ignorance. The concepts of backups and copy-verify-delete are just too basic, and too easy.

It would be interesting to see just what data was lost, and what the results are, ie who winds up not getting prosecuted for what crimes as a result of this, but I am not going to hold my breath waiting for this information to surface. Whoever benefits from this data loss (and their accomplices) should, of course, be the prime suspects in "arranging" for it to happen.

But since it is the PD, it is more likely that "just fire the IT guy and sweep the rest under the rug" will be the outcome.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Accident?

It is difficult to see how this could truly be accidental, and just the result of incompetence or ignorance. The concepts of backups and copy-verify-delete are just too basic, and too easy.

You really don’t think that happens?



There is virtually no limit to human incompetence.

Upstream (profile) says:

Re: Re: Accident?

I’m sure you could come up with many more examples of data loss, but of the six examples listed (the Sidekick example was duplicated on both links), all are rather old, and only three were complete loss of data due to accident / incompetence:

Disney / Pixar – <1999 – accident / incompetence
Sidekick – 2009 – accident / incompetence
DreamHost – 2007 – accident / incompetence
NARA – 2009 – theft / It appears that only one copy was lost, data existed elsewhere
AMAG Pharma – <2015 – It appears that only one copy was lost, data restored from backup or other source
UK Prison system – 2008 – It appears that only one copy was lost, data existed elsewhere

I mentioned the examples were old because in years past making backups was more costly and time-consuming than it is today. Storage was more expensive and data transfer rates were slower. In the time frames of the incidents linked to, terabyte drives and gigabit/sec devices were not quite the commodity items they are today. These may be small points, but they can make a difference

Another, much larger and more important, point: in the above examples, there is a possibility that corruption and / or criminal intent was involved. After all, business rivals could have a motive for causing a competitor to lose data or experience some other kind of setback. In the case of the Dallas PD, given what we know of police departments in general, and given what we know about the likely contents of the data that they keep, I would suggest that there is a strong probability that corruption and / or criminal intent was involved. Murderers can be highly motivated to cause the "loss" of evidence of their guilt, and I doubt that they would consider bribes, blackmail, or similar to be beneath them.

So, yeah, accidents happen and incompetence exists. But in this case I think an investigation should start with the assumption that this data loss is probably not the result of either one.

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