Tristan Hallman
Dallas Morning News

The cost of a new Dallas police records management system: $4 million. The cost of getting out of jail for inmates whose records sputtered in that system: free.

Police revealed Wednesday the names of more than 20 inmates — some suspected of felonies — who have been allowed to walk out of the Dallas County jail this month without posting bail days after their arrests because of snafus, software glitches and a short county deadline for filing cases after arrests.

Authorities are refiling cases and trying to find the suspects to get them back in jail, said Deputy Chief Christina Smith, who is overseeing the system’s implementation.

Blame for the mishaps has been scattered and aplenty, but city officials promised that the issues will improve with time, familiarity and planning.

“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.”

The records management software went live June 1, four years after the city bought it. It’s created headaches for officers who use it to file reports and store all records connected to a case in an electronic database. That wasn’t possible with the old system.

Police Chief David Brown said Monday at a City Council Budget, Finance and Audit Committee hearing that the problems are “nothing unexpected.” He said some officers initially received training months ago and may have forgotten how to use the new system.

“We’ve got like three generations of cops working for us,” Brown said. “Some of the younger cops get it much quicker and better. Some of the veterans have more difficulty with technology, so it takes a little bit more of a learning curve.”

But officers have complained that the software does not allow them to file even the simplest reports quickly or easily.

“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.”

Growing workload

Smith said the department and the software company, Intergraph, have already fixed some technological issues. And the county is sending lists of inmates to investigative units twice a day, she said.

She said the department’s early “speed bumps” created a backlog of reports, allowing some inmates to go free.

The department’s staff in charge of reviewing the reports initially didn’t have enough manpower to cope with a swelling workload created by the new system, she said. And on top of that, they had to kick back hundreds of reports to officers to correct mistakes.

Most of the prematurely released inmates were suspected of property crimes. But four of them had been arrested on felony domestic violence charges. One was Ray Herron, who was accused of choking a woman while she was driving until she passed out and drove into oncoming traffic. Another was James Lacy, who police said punched a woman in the face repeatedly before choking her.

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 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.

Mayor Mike Rawlings said he is “very concerned” about allowing domestic violence suspects off the hook and letting any inmates go free. He put some of the blame on an “I.T. issue” but he acknowledged the rollout could have been managed better.

“Inherently, in every company in America and every city, when you go from A to B in a new system, you’re going to screw up somehow,” he said. “You need to minimize that. And the key is when you’re dealing with public safety, you want to overmanage to minimize those mistakes.”

But others believe the software itself is flawed. San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle said the department’s Intergraph system has been disastrous.

“In 41/2years, it’s on life support right now with us,” he said. “It still doesn’t do all the things that it needs to do.”

Smith said Dallas officials did talk to San Antonio police about their problems and worked to avert some of the same issues.

The Phoenix Police Department, headed by a former Dallas police assistant chief, plans to launch an Intergraph records system next month and recently began training its officers.

On the case

In an emailed statement, an Intergraph spokeswoman said the company is working diligently with Dallas police on the “major undertaking.”

Bobbie Villareal, executive director of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, said she and other victims advocates are concerned about the short-term hiccups with the system and they hope the problems are resolved soon.

“It’s a public safety issue,” said Villareal, a former prosecutor. “If we’re not getting to process the cases in a timely manner, we could possibly be leaving a perpetrator out on the street because it hasn’t even made it to a detective yet.”

Original article