Dallas PD Hid Massive Data Deletion For Months From City Officials, District Attorney's Office
from the how-many-terabytes-can-be-swept-under-a-rug? dept
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.
That update was published by Dallas Magazine on August 19. That means those who did know didn’t tell their oversight for nearly four months. Some of this delay is almost explicable. Almost.
The Dallas PD originally thought it could recover the data, so the unexpected data deletion originally didn’t seem like a big deal. All the same, it would have made sense to inform the PD’s city oversight of the issue, just in case it turned out the data was lost for good.
This lack of communication — one that also kept the District Attorney’s office out of the loop — led to a city council meeting where the phrases “in hindsight” and “in retrospect” were thrown around by police officials. Hindsight and retrospect are pretty much useless in situations like these. It only prevents them from offering the same excuses the next time it happens. And let’s hope it doesn’t, because “troves of police data” is an understatement.
City officials discovered an additional 15 terabytes of Dallas police evidence and files from the city secretary’s office were missing during its ongoing audit of a massive erroneous data deletion, according to emails obtained Monday by The Dallas Morning News.
The city also fired an information technology employee Friday in connection with the lost evidence, according to the emails.
The discovery brings the total loss of files, as of Monday, to about 22.5 terabytes. The audit was initiated this month after Dallas County prosecutors learned an information technology employee improperly moved police evidence from a storage cloud to a local server resulting in the permanent loss of about 7.5 terabytes of information in April.
About 14 terabytes have been recovered from the botched data migration. And some of the files lost during the move from cloud storage to physical storage belonged to the city secretary’s office, which means this total includes files that didn’t come from the Dallas PD.
Despite not knowing the extent of everything lost until just recently, the Dallas Police Chief felt confident enough to claim the lost data did not include evidence about crimes against people. But the Dallas DA — rightfully — isn’t taking this statement at face value, considering the DA’s office was one of the last parties informed about the data loss. Multiple cases are now under review to determine whether they’re affected by the terabytes of data that are, so far, unrecoverable.
And that review process means the people tasked with taking criminals off the street are, for the time being, putting accused criminals back on the street.
A murder suspect was released from the Dallas County jail earlier this month because prosecutors said on the day of his trial that they needed more time to make sure his case wasn’t among those impacted. Last week, the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office called for independent audits for 18 murder cases.
While the eye-grabbing part of this story is the botched migration that resulted in the deletion of 23 terabytes, the more concerning aspect is the part that involves the shielding of a data catastrophe until it was impossible to keep it hidden any longer. Mistakes happen, but the decision to exclude the city council and, more disappointingly, the prosecutor’s office was deliberate. That shouldn’t be excused even if PD officials firmly believed the data deletion was reversible. There was always the chance that it wasn’t. People’s lives and freedoms are on the line and the DA’s office was kept out of the loop. This indicates the Dallas PD felt it was better to bury its 23-terabyte problem, rather than allow people affected by the sudden disappearance of evidence to find out about it.