Some Dallas area crime watch groups and city council members are none too happy about a new system in the city, which restricts access to information. For over a decade, Dallas police have relied on local community leaders to help maintain a reduction in crime throughout the city. But new state laws and technology issues limit the amount of content made available to the public regarding crimes, according to Dallas Police commanders.
“A neighborhood that is educated and informed is a safer neighborhood,” remarked Felix Saucedo, head of the Lakewood Trails crime watch association. “I can’t educate and inform, which is my primary mission, if I don’t have access to information.”
The Dallas Police Department launched a new records software system on June 1, 2014. Within days there were issues cropping up, such as 20 inmates accidently released without bail. At the time, a number of officers had little to no training with the software. Many were concerned about the conflicting information within the system as ome were unable to file cases within deadlines because of this.
Retired Major Scott Bratcher, who led the efforts in fixing the system, said recently that containing the issues within the Police Department was top priority. Fixing public reports was secondary.
Police officials state that more information is available on the city’s open data website in the form of a spreadsheet. But many are saying it’s not enough, or worse, that there are gaps of content missing. Paul Landfair, a retired database developer, notes that nearly half the assaults reported from June through December of 2014 are unlisted.
At a meeting last month, Dallas Police Chief David Brown remarked that not much would change. The system is here to stay. The portions of police reports which were once available to the public, and typically contained brief summaries of a crime, have been removed. This includes reports if a juvenile is involved. Some of the older reports contained phone numbers and other identifying information that should not have been available. Citizen’s privacy is equally important as notifying people about a crime.
Council members questioned why the software couldn’t be altered to filter out the restricted information. Citing technology issues, police officials believe that it wouldn’t be possible. On the positive side of things, Dallas is one of the few cities in Texas that gives out quite a bit of content regarding crimes, but laws and victim privacy are prohibiting them from giving out information that watch groups want.
One thing Dallas Police have been doing differently is actively engaging the community on social media. They have been hosting regular events that encourage the public to meet the police, and participate face to face to help with arrests, versus relying on the new software. Even with the push for social involvement, many still would like for the technical system to be fixed. The limitation on knowledge and access is creating an additional barrier for the average person. But Dallas Police want to maintain their relationship with watch groups, and find a way to ensure they receive the information they need.