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Data Could Soon Help Dallas ID Problem Police Officers

By the end of this year, Hall and City Manager T.C. Broadnax wants the city of Dallas to have a comprehensive early warning system to better identify officers whose behavior on patrol crosses lines.

by Dallas Morning News Editorial / July 20, 2020
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(TNS) — It is almost impossible for a police department to promote accountability throughout its ranks without reliable information about the actions of its officers.

This is the challenge facing the Dallas Police Department, which, like departments across the nation, is addressing crime, the strain of tight city budgets and intense public scrutiny of police tactics in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

In Dallas, a persistent impediment to reform and effective policing is the lack of information, a problem that Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall traces in part to antiquated technology. But that could change quickly. By the end of this year, Hall and City Manager T.C. Broadnax want Dallas to have a comprehensive early warning system to better identify officers whose behavior on patrol crosses lines.

A management system to oversee the daily operations of officers is a crucial step toward making policing smarter, more effective and more professional. Much information about officer performance is collected, but often it is not in an easily accessible form that promotes transparency and accountability. An automated early warning system would consolidate information and help supervisors make personnel decisions sooner.

The first goal of an early warning system is to identify patterns of behavior across all officers in all districts to gain detailed insight into the complexities of police and community interactions. The second is to identify officers whose behavior in vehicle stops, use of force, resisting-arrest incidents and high-speed pursuits makes them outliers. Those are red flags that could reveal whether an officer poses a danger to himself or herself, to fellow officers and to citizens.

Here is how it could work. Suppose the early warning system indicates that an officer has twice as many citizen complaints versus fellow officers, or resorts to force more than his or her colleagues. The officer’s supervisor and everyone in the chain of command, including the police chief, would get an alert.

The officer would be required to have a conversation with a supervisor, and police managers would determine whether a next step, such as more training or severe personnel action, is necessary.

The department also is wisely exploring ways to transition trained officers from jobs that civilian workers could perform, and exploring ways to change shift start times to adapt to the specific policing needs in patrol divisions. The department hopes to expand citywide a program that teams an officer trained in behavioral health, a clinician and a paramedic to respond to mental health crises.

As Dallas grows, the city will continue to have serious conversations about the number of police officers who will be needed to protect and serve the city. But the police department also is wise to seek detailed information about all corners of its own house and then base public safety decisions about the size of the force and other law enforcement priorities on solid, reliable data.

©2020 The Dallas Morning News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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