Op-Ed: Retired Dallas Detective Says We Should Keep Harris County Bail Reform Out of Dallas

Op-Ed: Retired Dallas Detective Says We Should Keep Harris County Bail Reform Out of Dallas

Reprinted from The Dallas Morning News – 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.

Reforming Dallas’ broken bail system could
hit us where it hurts — in the wallet
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 

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.

Dallas County commissioners must reform 
bail system or risk taxpayer millions. 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 

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.

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