Report: Millions of Dallas Police Files Lost over Poor Management

Oct. 1, 2021
A now-fired IT employee apparently ignored software system warnings that he was deleting terabytes of Dallas Police Department files instead of moving them to a server, according to a city review.

Poor management and lax oversight resulted in a Dallas IT employee deleting more than 8 million police department files, a city review released today has found.

About 4.1 million photos, videos, audio, case notes and other items — 7.5 terabytes of files — kept in a police storage archive have been permanently erased. Portions of 4.6 million files could still be restored if the original copies are found on police laptops, cameras and other devices, according to the report released by the city’s IT department on Thursday.

Police and the Dallas District Attorney’s Office have identified 1,000 criminal cases as priorities in the file recovery process, according to the 131-page report. There are nearly 17,500 cases that may have lost files. So far, the IT department has sifted through 142 cases and recovered more than 140,000 files that were thought to be deleted.

The city initially said 22.5 terabytes of data were deleted in separate instances since 2018. But the report narrowed that tally to 20.7 terabytes, with about 13.2 terabytes of extra files missing.

The report doesn’t detail the impact of the erased files on Dallas police investigations or prosecutions in any of the five counties the city touches. It also doesn’t provide a clear explanation for why the now-fired employee deleted the materials, other than saying there was “an obvious misunderstanding or disregard for the defined procedures,” on his part.

The review found that the employee apparently ignored warnings in the city’s software system that he was deleting files instead of moving them from online storage to a city server, according to the report.

“The City understands the seriousness and potential impacts of this data loss, and we are committed to improving how we manage our data to ensure its security and integrity,” City Manager T.C. Broadnax said in a statement about the report. He noted it included recommendations to improve how the city manages its data and to stop them from erroneously being deleted.

Broadnax, in an August memo, outlined new policies in the aftermath of the files being erased, including requiring two IT employees to oversee the movement of any data and instituting a 14-day waiting period before files are permanently deleted.

The report said that although city secretary files were also thought to be affected, the forensic audit determined that was not the case.

The internal review began in August after Dallas County prosecutors learned about the police files that had been missing since April.

It took months before city officials alerted local district attorneys, elected officials and the public about the files, which were deleted when they were supposed to be moved from cloud storage to a city server.

The city plans to bring in a law firm to oversee an outside investigation of the incident. The FBI’s Dallas bureau is helping the police department determine if the electronic evidence was deleted on purpose. A previous police investigation found no apparent criminal intent but couldn’t prove or refute if the files were intentionally erased.

The IT employee was fired in late August and has declined to comment to The Dallas Morning News.

The loss of evidence and other police files has led to police officials calling for an overhaul of how the agency manages and stores its data, though a 2018 city audit had noted recordkeeping concerns.

According to the city, the former employee was supposed to move 35 terabytes of archived police files from online storage to a physical city drive starting March 31. The transfer was scheduled to take five days.

But the process was canceled about halfway through after the employee instead erased 22 terabytes of files. The city said it recovered all but 7.5 terabytes.

The 4.1 million files in that batch came from several police department divisions, but the majority were evidence gathered by the family violence unit, the report said.

City officials announced in late August that it wasn’t the first time the employee had deleted files he was supposed to move and that the total amount of police evidence gone was actually nearly three times the initial estimate.


©2021 The Dallas Morning News.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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