Texas counties and law enforcement entities routinely fail to report the outcomes of criminal cases to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) for inclusion in the state’s database. Despite pledges to improve, counties persist in reporting only 69 percent of dispositions to DPS, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Some counties are much worse – Webb County (Laredo) reported virtually none of its case resolutions to DPS in 2006. Dallas County is a year behind and admits it will never catch up in entering case resolutions. In this modern age, more than half of Texas counties still file those reports by paper instead of electronically.

This failure of local district attorneys and law enforcement has several negative consequences. First, an officer who pulls over a suspect and looks them up in the DPS database will not be aware of their prior convictions if they had not been entered. On the other hand, law-abiding individuals who were exonerated may be denied jobs or occupational licenses because law enforcement or the county never updated the DPS database to indicate an acquittal or dismissal.

Additionally, reliable data is needed to assess the performance of various entities in the criminal justice system. For example, the governor’s office dispenses millions of dollars in federal criminal justice grants. If actual clearance rates for various crimes by applying entities could be assessed as part of the competitive screening process, applicants would have an incentive to demonstrate tangible results for the dollars they spend.

While some local governments claim they lack sufficient resources to submit updated case information, media reports and a Senate Criminal Justice Committee interim charge have exposed the misuse of assets seized from criminals for parties and gifts. Why not use a small portion of such proceeds to update the DPS database?

Quite simply, principles of public safety, basic fairness, and fiscal accountability require that crime data be fully and accurately reported. In this instance, ignorance is not bliss.

– Marc Levin