Friday, July 15, 2011

Travis County fails to report more than half of cases to state criminal database

For reasons I've never understood, Travis County perennially has a terrible time accurately uploading crime information into the state database. Tony Plohetski at the Austin Statesman reports that in 2009, less than half of crimes were recorded, and that's actually an improvement from recent years. (In 2005 and 2006, just 16% of cases were uploaded into the state system.) Plohetski reports that:
Travis County officials said they have long been aware of the problem, which has persisted for years. They blame a mix of clerical errors and chronic technical glitches within the county and said it also is likely that many of the county's criminal cases have not yet been resolved, making it impossible to report final outcomes to the state.

Yet another reason for the county's dismal compliance appears to be that no single elected official or county office is responsible for entering information or ensuring that it makes it into the state database. The task is splintered among clerks and prosecutors, meaning no single person has sole oversight of making sure the system works.

"We are very close to having this solved," said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, who is one of several county officials responsible for the effort and whose office must submit the final outcome of misdemeanor cases. "We want to get this information to them. We don't want to be a problem child."

Yet despite the passage of time and prodding from the Legislature, the Texas Department of Public Safety, which administers the database, said Travis County remains among the state's lowest-ranked in keeping the database current with essential criminal information. Not only does it lag behind the state's other major counties, it also underperforms some of the state's most rural areas, where technology is often less advanced.
With respect, Dana DeBeauvoir has been saying this problem is nearly fixed as long as Grits has been aware of it, which is now many years. As evidenced by this chart, Travis County still has the lowest completion rate among large jurisdictions:

It's not just that crimes committed might not be recorded. The flip side is that when criminal cases are filed, dismissals or acquittals might not later be updated in the system, leading to unjustly imposing collateral consequences or even causing false arrests. Retarded and/or incomplete data entry causes problems across the board.

Bottom line: Nobody in Travis County has made this a true priority and since there are no real consequences to not reporting, Travis simply wallows in failure instead of improving its performance. For that matter, it's astonishing that other large counties besides Harris fail to report 24-35% of their cases. By comparison to Travis they look pretty good, but that's damning with faint praise.

See related Grits posts:


Jennifer Laurin said...

Anyone know whether this has led to false arrests on the basis of outdated warrants? I'm curious to know whether suppression motions premised on the "systemic negligence" prong of the Herring v. U.S. test have been successful. Seems like this is actually a setting where they would be. - J

gravyrug said...

If Harris County, the biggest by far, can report 97%, what's the excuse of the others? That's just ridiculous.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jennifer, the best known case like that is Walter Rothgery's, whose false arrest ultimately led to a US Supreme Court case.

Jennifer Laurin said...

Thanks, Scott. I knew that case as a 6th Amendment problem, and didn't realize there were database issues as well. Always key to get the backstory.

Anonymous said...

What a cost effective way to reduce the crime rate! If you don't report it, it didn't happen. What innovative thinking! Isn't it?