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Dallas Police Bungle Digital Records Storage, Raising Concerns

Dallas police failed to catalog tens of thousands of digital records, risking wholesale violations of a state law requiring that authorities share evidence with defense lawyers, the Dallas Morning News reports. Police said the records are predominantly videos like patrol officers’ body cameras, vehicle camera recordings and footage from interview rooms that weren’t categorized and tagged in the department’s server when they were uploaded. If video footage isn’t categorized or tagged properly, it could be automatically deleted. If it’s not categorized at all, the file stays on the server but becomes very difficult to find, police said. Officers whittled down the list of untagged files from more than 89,000 to 52,000 after the problem was discovered in an internal audit last fall. They continue sifting through nearly 4 million records on the server to fix the issue.

“Some of those digital records that are untagged could have just been either a test video or a simple call for service where no action was taken,” Police Chief Eddie García said. “So not all of those records are digital evidence. It could have been the myriad of calls that we respond to that no arrest was made and no report was done.” But Cheryl Wattley, the defense lawyer in the case for which the state's record-sharing law, the Richard Miles Act, was named, said properly storing and cataloging evidence is fundamental to the integrity of the criminal justice process. Miles was exonerated after the discovery of a memo in the police department’s possession that implicated another man. Prosecutors said they weren’t made aware of the memo before Miles’ trial. “We want the people who violate the laws to be appropriately addressed,” Wattley said. “We don’t want those who haven’t done anything to be inappropriately caught up, and that goes back to the integrity of the information.” Just last week, a Dallas murder case was thrown into jeopardy because evidence wasn’t stored properly. A three-day court hearing revealed 18 videos or photos were deleted in accordance with the department’s retention policies because the lead detective did not save them. A state district judge is deciding whether to dismiss the case as a result.


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