Dallas police will soon move to an incident reporting system that it says will free up about 135,000 patrol hours but it also means that reporting some incidents will not initially put you in contact with an officer.
In a memo sent to the Dallas City Council Friday, Deputy City Manager Jon Fortune said incidents like vandalism and minor car wrecks will soon move to the Dallas Online Reporting System (or DORS), an online portal on the Dallas Police Department website. The hours the department estimates freeing would be the equivalent of 65 patrol officers, Fortune wrote.
Other incidents that will move to the model include car and coin-operated machine burglary, debit or credit card abuse, harassing phone calls, identity theft, interference with child custody, and some types of theft. Fortune said moving the reporting online would free up officers to respond to more serious issues and to work more on crime prevention. Those without access to the internet can call a police department representative, he said.
If you’ve ever had a minor car accident in the past couple of years, you likely have already used DORS to report it. There was also the ability to report other minor incidents and thefts on the site, but at a May 8 meeting of the council’s Public Safety Committee, 911 administrator Robert Uribe explained that it was voluntary—this new policy would make the use DORS mandatory.
Uribe said that from 2019 to 2022, 19 percent of calls where an officer was dispatched could have been handled via DORS. He said there has been a “modest decrease” in the number of DORS-eligible calls officers are dispatched to since 2019, but not enough.
“Despite our best efforts, our DORS use and phone report usage remains low,” he said. “So far in 2023, we’ve diverted 6 percent of all calls that are eligible. Of course, we would prefer to divert 100 percent of those calls.”
Uribe told the committee that the most urgent calls—priority one— increased by 7.6 percent, while priority two calls increased by about 3 percent in 2022.
“These calls require multiple officers to go to the scene, and this can also increase the workloads of teams across our department,” he said. The spike in calls has also led to an increase in response times, with priority one response times increasing by 6.21 percent since 2022. Priority two response times have increased by 42 percent, priority three by 53 percent, and priority four by more than 30 percent.
Call volume is also increasing, Uribe said, but officer staffing has not. “We took a look at our staffing levels compared to priority one calls since 2011,” he said. “What we saw was that since 2011, our priority one calls have increased over 70 percent, while our sworn staffing level has decreased by 10 percent.”
Councilwoman Gay Donnell Willis said the savings in patrol hours was “really kind of staggering.”
“I think we have to overcome the mentality of no matter what happens, whatever crime occurs, you call the police, and they should show up,” she said.
The department hired KPMG to analyze its staffing and calls, and that report recommended diverting some types of non-emergency calls to DORS and the department’s phone reporting process. Most of those call types are listed in the memo, but Uribe said that others—loud music, reports of gunfire, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and robberies—were also recommended for diversion but are still under review by the department.
Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn asked how the department would determine what required an officer’s attention and what could be reported through DORS, especially when it came to things like criminal mischief or someone finding their lawnmower gone after they left the garage door open.
“If someone went by and broke out every window on a full block of houses, we would imagine that it would be responded to,” Uribe said. “But if someone threw a rock the night before and no one saw it, no one saw any suspects, it’s better served to report that over the phone or through DORS.”
KPMG also recommended working with other agencies to divert certain types of calls. Parking violations and street blockages are now handled by the city’s transportation department. RIGHT Care teams assist with mental health calls. And in May, the city implemented a new towing program that should, Uribe said, “get officers back into service to be able to respond quickly to other calls.”
Dallas isn’t alone in moving to a more automated system for non-emergency calls. Uribe said that Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, El Paso, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth use similar systems to respond to non-emergency calls.
The department also plans to install kiosks with tablets at all department substations and storefronts that would allow people to use DORS. That effort has been held up, he said, because of the Royal ransomware attack on the city’s systems.
“Of course, we had a little unanticipated glitch this week, but soon we will be deploying the tablets to allow folks who have needs and may or may not have devices to make the reports online,” he said.
“I don’t know that our police stations are the most convenient locations,” Willis said. “Do we consider putting these at other city facilities like libraries, or rec centers, or someplace where you could get to them even outside?”
Uribe said that the plan was to test the kiosks at the substations first, “so that we have knowledgeable employees that can help throughout the kickoff.” Other locations could be added—like libraries and rec centers—once the program is up and running fully.
Uribe stressed to the committee that reporting a non-emergency incident won’t change how it’s investigated—it just means that they don’t have to wait for an officer to respond. “Everyone should understand that it does not change the investigative process,” he said. “The same follow-up units are notified, and they complete their investigation as is standard through any police report that’s filed.
“We believe that expanding the use of the online and phone reporting, and the other strategies we’ve discussed will improve response times for higher priority calls,” he said, adding that with the additional officer availability, the move might mean that the department could expand its violent crime grids, which sections off parts of the city where violent crime is most common and directs police resources within those grids.
Fortune said in Friday’s memo that the rollout of the new procedures should happen in mid-June (likely barring any continued issues untangling the city from its ransomware mess).