Dallas County considers new way to shred sensitive records

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on January 10, 2012 at 11:15 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 10 at 11:18 PM

DALLAS - With hyper-vigilance over identity theft, experts said the decision facing Dallas County commissioners should be a 'no-brainer.'

Commissioner Maurine Dickey agreed.

"What is it gonna take? A bomb to explode for the county to realize the urgency of this?" she said. "This is against the law not to protect sensitive records."

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners responded to a recent News 8 report that revealed Dallas County has let convicted criminals in its community service program shred sensitive records, including Social Security cards, birth certificates, medical records, even a psychiatric exam of a juvenile.

Probationers sorted through thousands of documents for at least a decade, the county admitted, but Judge Clay Jenkins said he suspended the practice after the News 8 report.

"We're not trying to blame anybody. We're just saying we need to protect the public," Commissioner Dickey said. "Whatever that takes, we need to protect the public."

Still, staff at Commissioners Court downplayed the concern Tuesday, and said only one document mistakenly landed in a probationer's hands.

What's more concerning is the official recommendation for commissioners. It never says a word about prohibiting probationers from shredding sensitive papers, but instead, just recommends a licensed and bonded company handle it in the future.

"If all are sent to that company then I think it's implicit they won't be sent somewhere else," Judge Jenkins said. "But that can certainly be delineated out in a sentence."

Commissioner John Wiley Price, who oversees the community service program, said the concern and liability is exaggerated.

"You take one incident and you make an avalanche out of it," he said. "I don't think we have a problem."

California already outlawed its probationers from shredding sensitive records.

Judge Jenkins says he'll ask Texas legislators to, as well.

But critics want to see what he does about it first in Dallas County.

A final proposal and vote could happen as early as next Tuesday.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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