by Kim Sanders
As a detective for the Dallas Police Department, I took an oath to protect my fellow citizens for more than 30 years. Though retired, I still take that oath very seriously, which is why I know firsthand that so-called “bail reform” initiatives put the lives of Texans at risk. We cannot let Dallas fall into the trap.
Bail reform advocates have their sights set on overhauling Dallas’ bail system, signifying a dangerous shift in policy that favors criminals and ignores victims. The traditional bail system used in almost every other Texas county works hand-in-hand with law enforcement to ensure defendants show up for court and answer for their crimes. Without it, dangerous criminals are released on the streets virtually overnight.
Here’s the long and short of it:
In 2017, a federal judge declared Harris County’s bail system unconstitutional, ordering the release of defendants within 24 hours regardless of their ability to pay. This led to a massive uptick in individuals released on “unsecured bonds,” which are little more than pinky promises to show up for court. Data from the Harris County district clerk shows that of 8,000 unsecured bonds granted between June and December 2017, an alarming 3,500 were forfeited, meaning 43 percent of those individuals failed to appear for court.
According to a study by UT-Dallas, defendants released using a bail bond company were significantly less likely to skip their court hearing than those on unsecured bonds, and they saved taxpayers over $10 million for felony and misdemeanor defendants. Without the bail system, taxpayers are on the hook for offenders that skip court or commit additional crimes.
Much of this public safety crisis can be attributed to Dallas County’s love affair with the risk assessment tool, a computer algorithm designed to predict the likelihood of a defendant to fail to appear in court or commit offenses while they’re out of jail. The idea is to designate defendants as being high or low risk, but many assessed as low-risk and released commit additional crimes. A study released this month by George Mason University asserts that these tools are much less effective in practice than in theory, with little to no proof they actually reduce crime, incarceration rates or racial disparities. They were found to be no more successful in decision-making than an ordinary person with little criminal justice experience would be.
Take the State of Kentucky, the gold standard for the bail reform movement. Kentucky mandated the use of a risk assessment tool in 2011, yet as the tool was increasingly utilized, the rate of failures-to-appear and pretrial crime actually increased. The risk assessment tool is gaining rapid traction around the U.S. with little evidence it actually works, and that’s a risk Dallas County can’t afford to take.
The Houston Police Officers Union says the judicial system has become a revolving door for repeat offenders because of bail reform. Arrestees brag to law enforcement they’ll be out in a matter of hours, making a mockery of our justice system. Why, for example, is an offender arrested 34 times and released on an unsecured bond? Is that what we consider “low-risk?”
Relying on technology that lacks the ability to reason and consider human behavior opens the door to colossal error. I’ve witnessed too much of what these offenders can do, and I worry for the safety of our communities if we allow a computer to decide what has historically been the decision of experienced, elected judges.
As a former long-time law enforcement officer, I agree that not everything about our criminal justice system is perfect. Meaningful reforms are necessary, but police officers don’t take an oath just to play a game of catch-and-release. If reform means utilizing an unproven software, putting the safety of Dallasites at risk and spitting in the face of victims, I suggest we take a pass.
Detective Kim Sanders is a retired Dallas police detective and part owner of Keep My ID.