DALLAS -- Bugs. Glitches. Long delays in booking prisoners. About 800 reports caught in the system. And now prisoners going free in the quagmire.
One high-ranking Dallas police commander calls it a “roll-out fiasco.” On June 1, the Dallas police department switched from its decades-old mainframe system to a new, $4 million records management system. The department also launched a new field-based report system.
It’s been one problem after another ever since, and Dallas police acknowledge the launch - which was four years in the making - has been far from trouble-free.
“This system is probably the greatest change in the way we do things in the police department that’s happened in my in my career,” said Maj. Scott Bratcher, a 33-year veteran who is overseeing the project. “We’re changing the way we report every incident, the way we categorize the information, and then the way we manage our cases from here on out -– and it all changed in one minute. Unfortunately for us, we probably underestimated the impact that it was going to have on certain functions and we created bottlenecks for ourselves. A lot of it is user error.”
Bratcher said officials have been making fixes as quickly as possible. The department’s nine-person training team has been working around-the-clock in shifts manning a help line to assist people who are having problems with the system.
He said he is aware of three cases in which prisoners went free because the cases were not filed within the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office within 72 hours. Each of those had been arrested for property crime offenses.
One of those was Willie Brown, a convicted burglar who was booked into the county jail on a burglary charge June 2. According to police records, a plainclothes police officer spotted Brown breaking into a garage on Liberty Street. Officers caught him nearby. He confessed.
Four days later, he was released after the case didn’t reach the district attorney’s office. He remained at large Thursday.
The reports of the arrests were in the system, but for some reason, detectives could not “see” that the arrests had been made. To prevent prisoner releases from reoccurring, the department’s jail staffers are now keeping a list of all those arrests. The list is being sent out to the investigative units every shift, Bratcher said.
Bratcher identified three main trouble areas:
- Computer hardware that simply couldn’t handle this more “robust” system. Officers are working to fix those issues.
- “Business processes” that didn’t work well with the new system. Officials are creating workarounds to solve those issues.
- Gaps in training. Most officers were trained on the system 18 months ago, and many of them had simply forgotten how to use it. There was a practice module, but few people took advantage of it.
“We’re on the steep side of the learning curve right now,” Bratcher said. “It’s a hugely robust system that it’s going to take officers a while to get used to.”
Richard Todd, president of the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police, said he’s received numerous complaints about the system, including that officers were spending hours and hours at the jail trying to get prisoners booked in, and that detectives who normally get dozens of cases a day are only getting a few.
“It’s a mess,” Todd said. “It’s a bottleneck. They need to stop the bleeding and put the old system back online, if possible, until we can work out the bugs. You’ve got citizens that depend on us each and every day to do our job, and we can’t do our job when the system doesn’t work right.”
Bratcher acknowledged that jail waits have been an issue, but said that the system has drastically improved in recent days.
“We’re having less and less calls from the jail each day, so things seem to be getting better,” he said.
He also said going back is not an option. The old system was turned off when the new system came online.
Bratcher expects issues with the system to be ironed out by the end of the month.
Still, many fear that this might be a rerun of the 2007 debacle, when the police and fire departments launched a new emergency dispatch system. That system suffered from serious glitches for more than a year and it took millions of dollars to fix it.