Evaluating the Communities Foundation of Texas's Gift to the Dallas Police Department

Patrol Car Video Recorders and Laptops

by Robert C. Davis, Karin E. Kitchens

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Research Questions

  1. How did the Dallas Police Department use its $5 million gift from the Communities Foundation of Texas to address the department's technology needs?
  2. What was the impact of the technology (digital video recorders and laptop computers in patrol cars) on department operations and the frequency and outcome of citizen complaints?
  3. What were the implementation challenges, and how was the technology used by officers in the course of their duties?
  4. What were senior and patrol officers' opinions of the technology, and what were the reasons for these opinions?

Police departments today are expected to pursue a wide range of missions beyond simple crime-fighting. With these new responsibilities come new requirements, particularly in the area of technology. In 2006, the Communities Foundation of Texas allocated $15 million to the Dallas Police Department, of which $5 million was intended to address the department's technology needs. The funds were used to acquire and install digital video recorders and laptop computers in patrol cars, helping the department modernize its operations. The foundation asked RAND to evaluate the impact of its technology gift and help it determine whether the funds were well spent. The evaluation considered the devices' uses and frequency of use by officers, senior and patrol officers' opinions of the devices, and trends in the overall number of citizen complaints and the proportion of complaints in which disciplinary action was taken as a result of video evidence. It also revealed a number of implementation problems with the video recorders that stemmed from a lack of backward compatibility between different models of video recorders. The evaluation was limited by a lack of historical data on before-and-after measures of officers' time allocation, which prevented a determination of time savings resulting from the use of computers in patrol cars.

Key Findings

The Technology Funds from the Communities Foundation of Texas Were Well Spent

  • The technologies in which the Dallas Police Department chose to invest the funds (specifically, digital video recorders and laptop computers in patrol cars) helped modernize the department and secure its place as a forerunner in community policing strategies.
  • The devices increased the efficiency of officers on patrol, assisted in internal affairs investigations, and had a multitude of uses.

Despite Implementation Challenges, the Value and Perception of the Technology Was Positive Overall

  • The car digital video recorders were useful to the department in recording traffic stops and car chases, documenting crime scenes upon the arrival of officers, corroborating or disputing citizen complaints, and recording the inventory of suspects' possessions.
  • The laptop computers were useful in helping patrol officers run license plate checks, complete paperwork online, determine the most direct route to a crime scene, and read email and police bulletins.
  • The video recorders played a vital role in exonerating officers accused of misconduct before the public and media could rush to judgment. However, they also served to substantiate complaints, in some cases.
  • Senior officers were more enthusiastic than patrol officers of the car digital video recorders, but both groups had favorable opinions of the car laptop computers.
  • The video recorders resulted in an overall decrease in the number of citizen complaints but an increase in the proportion of complaints that led to disciplinary action.

Recommendations

  • The Dallas Police Department should ensure that it adheres to guidelines set by the International Association of Chiefs of Police to ensure backward compatibility when new technology is purchased. The department encountered problems with the car digital video recorders when the respective vendors discontinued the models that the department had acquired.
  • Evaluations are best begun concurrently with program funding. The technologies were introduced in 2006, and the necessary historical data were not available to establish before-and-after measures of the effects of the devices on patrol functions.

This research was conducted under the auspices of the Center on Quality Policing (CQP), part of the Safety and Justice Program within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment (ISE).

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