Friday, January 27, 2023
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Dallas cops are getting a major tech upgrade

Congress has dominated headlines in recent weeks for all the wrong reasons, but Dallas can thank its representatives for a major win in the 2023 federal spending package.

The Dallas Police Department will receive a $935,000 grant to transition to a new records management system. The grant was obtained through a bipartisan push by Democratic U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who retired this month, and Republican U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne.

Dallas police rely on a hodgepodge of technology systems to enter and store reports and evidence. That precarious net, along with poor information technology practices, has left the department vulnerable to data losses and security breaches. A new records management system won’t by itself solve the department’s IT problems, but it should be a major improvement.

Executive Assistant Chief of Police Albert Martinez said the grant will be used to upgrade the department to a web-based records management system. Currently, officers have to connect into the Police Department network to file an arrest or incident report. Some of them can do that from their squad cars or from a department-issued laptop, though not every officer has one. Many officers wait until they can get to police headquarters or to the county jail to file reports.

The new web-based system will streamline the steps to file reports and will allow officers to do so from more devices, including cellphones, Martinez said.

“Imagine you’re at a shooting and you have eight or 10 officers at the location,” he said. “Those officers could begin to add the information about where they were, what they did, at the same time without us having to bring them back to headquarters or telling them, ‘Hey, go get on the system when you can.’”

The goal is for all officers to eventually have a department-issued cellphone because it’s the modern-day computer, Martinez added.

“A system like this will allow them to enter the reports and pictures and data immediately,” Martinez said.

The new system will have more storage space, and Dallas police want it to store most of the data in their cases, though items such as videos and cellphone data are too large and will have to be stored separately, Martinez said.

The upgraded RMS is part of a departmentwide effort to centralize Dallas police files and move away from a jumble of data storage schemes that an external audit last year identified as a problem. That audit, which was commissioned after a city IT worker accidentally deleted millions of police files in 2021also found that the department lacked clear archiving criteria and other safeguards.

If there is a silver lining to the 2021 data loss, it is that it seems to have been a wake-up call for City Hall and Dallas police to finally tackle the department’s IT deficiencies. As police and city officials explore options to improve their storage of case data, they should also consider how newer technologies can help them better process public information requests.

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