New Travis County DWI System Actually Makes Justice Slower
Public faith in the justice system is always tenuous at best. Citizens perceive the courts as being slow, inefficient, and burdensome. It is not uncommon for people to wonder why law enforcement and the courts are so slow to adapt especially when it comes to utilizing technology. So when officials do incorporate technology and it does not help to move things along, it becomes all the more maddening. Now imagine if new technology actually made things worse.
A High Tech Slower Evidence Transmission System
In 2017, Travis County adopted a $3.5 million dollar software system meant to reduce the time it takes for law enforcement to transmit evidence, particularly police dash cam footage, to prosecutors. Dash cam footage is crucial in DWI cases in particular and DWIs represent a good portion of all arrests made in Travis county.
The old method of transferring video evidence from police to prosecutors involved manually copying the videos onto a CD and then physically delivering the CD. That process usually took about three weeks. That is a relatively long time for a defendant to have to wait for evidence that may exculpate them or incriminate them.
Now with the new system, the average time to send footage is 10 months. That is a staggering increase in lag time. It takes law enforcement 13 times longer to send a video over the internet than it does to physically put a video onto a CD and then deliver that CD to the District Attorney’s office. There are currently 2,600 backlogged videos.
So, while before a DWI defendant may be biting his nails for less than a month, that same defendant now would have to wait nearly a year before a prosecutor even reviews the case to decide if it will go forward or not.
What is the Problem?
County officials have offered a long list of reasons why things are taking so much longer. For one, they say that the internet at the police stations is not fast enough. Law enforcement technicians are also pointing out that they now handle significantly more video evidence requests since police are now using body-cameras. The number of video evidence requests have more than doubled in the last year. Meanwhile, the size of the technician staff has remained the same, five full time employees.
Prosecutors and judges are seemingly unmoved by excuses for the delay and many have voiced their complaints. County misdemeanor judges actually went so far as to sign a letter stating their concerns.
Austin Police Chief of Staff Troy Gay for his part admits that there is a problem and is trying to come up with solutions. Gay says his department is in the process of hiring two new staff members to help the backlog. He also has said there are currently plans to take officers that are on injury duty and have them help with the video transfers. Gay, however, does not have an idea of when the problem may be resolved.