It’s hard to analyze crime data if you don’t collect it.
But essentially that is what is happening in Dallas County. What began more than a decade ago as an information-sharing portal and investigative tool for law enforcement agencies has withered from disuse. That has to change.
At issue is what’s known as the Dallas County Incident Module system, a countywide case management system that Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot and Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown say most local law enforcement agencies no longer use. Some never participated and, over time, many law enforcement agencies decided that they wanted to keep case management in-house or develop their own reporting systems, says Brown.
Crime, however, doesn’t honor city boundaries and can exploit jurisdictional weaknesses. The county should make it a priority to have a functional case management system that erases law enforcement silos and blind spots.
As this newspaper has written, the lack of comprehensive data reporting and sharing across the county’s criminal justice system is more than a bureaucratic rough spot. A prime example is the dangerous vacuum that the lack of information creates during the pretrial setting of bail. When relevant Information about risk factors isn’t readily available at a bail hearing, judges and magistrates might not fully recognize the level of danger a defendant poses to the community or the extent of a defendant’s violent criminal offenses when they set conditions of release.
Creuzot wants more data and is on the right track to want the module beefed up and shifted from the sheriff’s department to the control of the district attorney’s office. That makes a lot of sense. The district attorney’s office is at the intersection of the county’s police agencies, defense attorneys, judges and defendants and it needs complete and timely information. “All the cases come here, all the information comes here,” Creuzot says.
With more information in hand, prosecutors could better make a case for high bail or tougher terms of release for habitual, high-risk offenders and magistrates could make more informed decisions. On a macro level, a properly administered data-sharing system could help law enforcement agencies analyze crimes and arrests, and coordinate anti-crime strategies.
This isn’t just about locking up offenders. Such knowledge also could be used to intervene and rehabilitate. Detailed criminal records can provide insight to identify people who are close to spiraling into a life of crime and provide family, community and law enforcement a chance to change that trajectory before at-risk individuals become perpetrators or victims.
Having a more robust, detailed profile of those in the criminal justice system is necessary to help guide policy and strategies. This is important because we’ve heard law enforcement officers complain that they are arresting and rearresting the same offenders repeatedly, and that this pretrial cycle contributes to the crime rate. Hard data is difficult to find about those who reoffend while out on bond awaiting trial to prove or disprove that assertion. But that is why more data and cooperation across jurisdictional lines is needed to identify trends as well as understand individual cases.
Smart bail reform can ensure high-risk violent defendants who can make bail are detained and that low-risk, nonviolent people who can’t make bail don’t sit in jail awaiting a trial date that may be weeks or months away. But in the end, the criminal justice system in Dallas County has to know more about crime, punishment and deterrence than it now knows.
Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.