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Dallas police officials say department needs better storage system for electronic files

Chief Eddie García said the department plans to buy more storage space and provide the ability to share files with prosecutors.

Dallas police officials said the department needs to change how it manages and stores data and that the agency plans to start allowing prosecutors direct access to some evidence files.

Executive Assistant Chief Albert Martinez said Friday that police, IT and other city staff will be part of a work group to create a five-year plan to streamline and create uniform policies for how the department gathers and stores evidence files.

The department currently uses different programs to manage everything from officers’ schedules to crime reports as well as body camera footage and use-of-force reporting.

Now, police are reevaluating their data needs after a former city employee accidentally deleted 22.5 terabytes, mostly from the police department. It took months before city officials alerted local district attorneys, elected officials and the public about the files, which were deleted when they were supposed to be moved from cloud storage to a city server. The city IT employee involved has since been fired, and the FBI is investigating whether the items were eliminated on purpose. An earlier city inquiry found no apparent criminal intent.

Martinez said the department doesn’t have a universal policy for retaining documents, videos and other files or checks to make sure existing policies are adhered to.

“One of the things this data loss has crystalized for us is that what we retain, whether it be documents and videos, is not well standardized,” he said. “Each investigative unit has their own way” of storing and documenting data.

Martinez described the police file deletions as “exposing an Achilles’ heel” but also a “saving grace because we had all our data on different platforms.”

Police and IT officials have said the files were in archive storage and likely included photos, videos, audio, case notes and other evidence files. Martinez said it’s believed there were also police memos, spreadsheets and administrative documents.

A city forensic audit to identify all the lost files is still scheduled to be done by Sept. 30, Martinez said. The Dallas County DA’s office, police and the city have not said how many Dallas County cases could be impacted. A man charged in a 2019 killing was released after the DA’s office asked for a trial delay to determine if his case was affected. It was determined later that files in that case were still available.

The police department currently isn’t aware of any other cases that are impacted, Martinez said.

“We’re highly confident that the criminal cases already filed by the district attorney’s office aren’t compromised,” he said.

Chief Eddie García also mentioned plans for a comprehensive review of the police department’s data collection and storage needs in a memo to council members last week.

García said in the memo that the way the police department currently stores files “involves various platforms piecemealed through time” and that information needs to be in one system.

“This piecemeal approach results in gaps and workarounds in the overall process which introduce risks and inefficiencies,” García said.

García said in the memo that the city is planning to buy 100 terabytes of new space to store information collected during police investigations.

Martinez told The Dallas Morning News it will mostly be used to store police body-worn camera footage and the district attorney offices in Dallas, Collin, Denton, Kaufman and Rockwall counties would have direct access to the data.

Martinez said that currently, police staff has to find and send the footage by request.

Problems with management of police department recordkeeping have been identified in the past.

A 2018 city audit of the police’s records management system, which is the software that stores crime data, found that police didn’t have controls in place to stop or independently detect when evidence files were altered or eliminated.

Between June 2014 and June 2017, police staff couldn’t explain why 384 crime reports were deleted from its system, the audit said. Some may have been legitimately eliminated through court-ordered expungements, according to the report, but the police department couldn’t provide records that documented how many of them fell into that category.

The audit also found that at the time, the city’s IT department had not been doing yearly reviews of those who had access to the police’s records system. The lack of scrutiny resulted in more than 900 active user accounts, out of 4,681, on the police records management system tied to former employees, making up 21% of those with access.

Some of the recommendations made to the former police chief, U. Reneé Hall, included creating formal policies and procedures that only allowed police management to request any changes or data deletions; that records be kept and regularly reviewed to monitor for unusual activity regarding police files; and to cut off employees’ access to that information after they stopped working there.

In This Story

Everton Bailey Jr.. Everton covers Dallas city government. He joined The Dallas Morning News in November 2020 after previously working for The Oregonian and The Associated Press in Hartford, Conn.

everton.bailey@dallasnews.com @EvertonBailey
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