DALLAS — More than 100 Dallas police officers have been effectively left in the dark; locked out of a vital computer database that they need to do their jobs.
"I got in the car one night and logged on and went about my business and headed out — and I run a lot of vehicles for stolen — and I put a vehicle in and it came back and said, 'You are unauthorized for using the system,'" said a Dallas police patrol officer who asked that WFAA conceal his identity because he feared retaliation for speaking out.
There are two all-important databases used by officers to check a person's criminal history, outstanding warrants, and stolen vehicles: NCIC (National Crime Information Center) and its state-run counterpart, the TCIC (Texas Crime Information Center).
Officers must undergo training every two years. If they don't happen, their access is revoked.
The Dallas Police Department fell behind on training officers during the problem-plagued rollout of its new $4 million records management system (RMS). Police officials acknowledge 123 officers currently lack access, including 62 in patrol.
"The training team has been assigned the last two months almost on a full-time basis to RMS," Maj. Scott Bratcher told WFAA.
Bratcher, who oversees police technology, said those trainers are now being immediately reassigned to address the lapsed certifications so officers can have their access to the criminal information databases restored. He said he expects that the backlog will be cleared out within two weeks.
In the interim, Bratcher said the department could have those officers who have lost their access paired with other officers.
Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston said he notified Dallas Police Chief David Brown about the problem during a meeting on Monday with other police associations. He said the situation puts officers and the public in harm's way.
"It might be an aggravated robber with a warrant out, and that guy could wind up hurting that officer, because [the officer] doesn't know that he's got an aggravated robbery warrant," Pinkston said. "Or, he could be letting a pedophile go that's been wanted in 10 states. He won't know that."
On the Dallas Police Association's private Facebook page, officers have been posting about their concerns:
"I've called so many times to be placed in a class with no answer," one officer wrote.
"It's been almost a month [...] and I can't get any answers as to when I can test to get back into the system," said another.
The officer who spoke with WFAA said he's been without access to the criminal databases for more than a month. He said that about two days after he realized he lost access, he received a mass e-mail from police technology.
"It said, 'We are aware that many of you are without your NCIC/TCIC certification, and we're working to rectify the problem,'" the officer said. "'Please don't call us. We'll let you know when the class is available.'"
The officer said he had yet to be contacted about when he can get the required training. He added that he knows of at least a half-dozen officers who are similarly without access.
"I think it's increased the level of danger to myself, and I think it's increased the level of danger to the citizens," the officer said. "I'm not able to run vehicles to check for stolen. I'm not able to run suspects to check to see if they have outstanding warrants, to verify if they have licenses."
He said he could ask an already-overworked dispatcher to do it for him, but that would tie up radio traffic and create a risk for other officers. So, for the most part, this officer is refraining from pulling over vehicles until his database access is restored.
"I'm not near as effective in my job as I could be because don't have this ability," the officer said. "It's a routine thing, but once again, the routine has become complicated."