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Politics & Government

What Did Dallas Know About the Loss of Police Data and When Did It Know It?

That was the question at the heart of a public hearing on Thursday in which council members grilled top city officials for more than four hours.
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Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax says there’s a rule in his line of work. Never let your bosses be surprised.

City Council members spent hours grilling Broadnax and other top officials in an occasionally feisty public hearing on Thursday. At least one thing became clear. That rule was broken. 

On March 31, a city IT employee accidentally deleted troves of police data while transferring it to a new server. The deletion could potentially impact prosecutors’ ability to try the corresponding criminal cases. Top city officials including Broadnax and Police Chief Eddie Garcia became aware of the deletion, if not its scale, in April. It’s only in the last two weeks that the City Council and Dallas County District Attorney’s office learned about it.

So City Council members and the public had a lot of catching up to do. Here is some of what we learned in today’s public hearing:

  • The city still doesn’t know how many cases may have been affected, if any. A murder suspect was released on bond this week while police made sure that no evidence had been lost, but Garcia said Thursday that detectives have since confirmed they do have all the necessary data to proceed to trial in that case.
  • Broadnax and other city officials didn’t tell City Council members (with the exception of the then-outgoing and now gone Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates, who apparently didn’t tell her colleagues) about the data loss because they were under the initial impression that it wasn’t a big deal, and most of the data could be recovered. They concluded in early August, when the DA was finally being informed, that it was in fact going to be a big deal.
  • Councilman Adam McGough, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, noted perhaps the most significant difference between April, when top city officials first heard of the incident, and August. “Nothing changed except that we were becoming aware of it.”
  • “In hindsight,” a phrase that was used almost as often as “in retrospect” during the hearing, City Council members should have been told. Most council members only learned of the data loss last week, either via a memo sent to defense attorneys by District Attorney John Creuzot or in subsequent news reports.

City Hall has been routinely dogged by communication breakdowns going in various directions. Last year, Dallas’ former police chief misled council members about whether tear gas was used against protesters on Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Broadnax and Mayor Eric Johnson seemed to primarily communicate via memos and subtweets.

Johnson said last week that he was “blindsided” by the news of the data loss. Broadnax, who said he has not spoken directly to the mayor about the incident, acknowledged there had been communication issues and (in an earlier memo) took “full responsibility.”

But Broadnax downplayed the seriousness of the data loss and its potential impact on criminal cases. He said he was not briefed on the data deletion between April and August, a timeframe in which the city’s IT department worked with detectives to see what data could be recovered or found replicated in other storage spaces. (The “metadata” for the 8 terabytes of lost information remain, which makes this possible.)

“The people doing the work were doing the work,” Broadnax said.

It’s a big city with big issues, and the city manager said he trusts his team to know when to keep him updated on the biggest.

“I’m probably blindsided five, 10 times a day,” Broadnax said.

Meanwhile, Creuzot’s office is still surveying the damage.

“The office is still reviewing our cases and will continue to file notices as necessary in any cases that we find to be affected,” read a provided statement.

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