State police's work careless, auditors find

Crime-fighting efforts of the Maryland State Police might have been hampered by the department's failure to collect DNA samples from thousands of felons, adequately monitor firearms dealers or properly keep track of drugs and cash collected as evidence, according to a new legislative audit.

The report, which was made public this week, details widespread problems with state police financial management and indicates that auditors also have requested that the state attorney general's office look into $65,000 in construction contracts handed out by the department.

"They are glaring deficiencies that affect public safety," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

In a written reply to auditors, Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, who has headed the state police since December, said the department is working to fix many of the problems.

The report covers activity at the department from May 2000 to May last year - a time when the state police was headed by David B. Mitchell, now the Delaware secretary of safety and homeland security, and, for five months, by Edward T. Norris, who has been sentenced to federal prison for misusing funds while he was Baltimore's police commissioner.

Mitchell would not comment on the audit yesterday.

According to the report:

DNA samples were not collected from as many as 8,300 felons, as required by law. Many samples that were collected were never analyzed or entered in the state's database of convicted felons' DNA, a practice considered a key crime-fighting tool. When fewer criminals are entered into the database, police have less chance of matching genetic evidence from an open investigation to that of someone in the database.

Because of deficiencies in monitoring firearms dealers, there was no guarantee that gun sellers were performing background checks on purchasers or that each handgun sold had required safety devices.

There were insufficient controls over confiscated drugs and drug dealer money. Auditors found logs reporting that drugs had been destroyed when those same drugs were found elsewhere in police custody. There was no independent review to ensure that confiscated cash was handled properly.

State police did not ensure that casings for all qualifying handguns were entered into Maryland's Integrated Ballistics Identification System - an analysis system that can help identify and track guns used in crimes.

State police had lost track of 42 "personal data assistants" that troopers were supposed to use to record information about traffic stops. Most of those 42 - valued at $47,000 - were located, but others worth $85,000 remained unissued in storerooms. Many PDAs assigned to troopers were never used.

"Questionable matters" were discovered in the police procurement division. Construction contracts totaling $65,000 were artificially split into smaller, individual contracts to bypass oversight requirements. In a number of cases, work was paid for but not performed. Some purchase orders were prepared only after the police had received invoices for certain services.

Hutchins was not available for comment yesterday because he was attending the funeral of Baltimore Police Officer Brian D. Winder, said state police spokesman Sgt. Thornnie Rouse.

In a written response, Hutchins blamed the backup in DNA testing and analysis on funding shortages. He said he has added controls to ensure proper destruction of drugs and said the department is improving its audits of firearms dealers. He wrote that the department has located all missing PDA systems.

Hutchins also encouraged an investigation into the questionable construction contracts.

"This investigation needs to be completed to determine if there were any violations of State Procurement law," he wrote. "The Department of State Police will cooperate fully with the Attorney General's Office and will await the findings and recommendations that result from this investigation."

Many of the issues in the report are not new. Auditors said 14 of the problems in this most recent report had been identified in the last audit in 2001.

"I'm kind of concerned about the lack of progress," said Sen. Verna L. Jones, a Baltimore Democrat who sits on the legislative subcommittee for public safety, transportation and environment. She said she was particularly bothered by the findings concerning DNA. "It's true that money is an issue, in terms of the DNA, but it's not the only issue," she said. "It seems like there is a matter of system reform."

Jones and other legislators - many of whom were reading the audit for the first time yesterday - said they are giving Hutchins the benefit of the doubt but will expect answers by the legislative session. "When we review their budget ... we'll be raising some of these issues," said Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat who is chairman of the public safety subcommittee.

What the legislative audit found

  • DNA samples were not collected from as many as 8,300 felons.

  • The method used to monitor firearm dealers could not ensure that the sellers were performing background checks on purchasers.

  • There was a lack of control over confiscated drugs and drug dealer money.

  • Casings for all qualifying handguns were not entered into Maryland's Integrated Ballistics Identification Systems.
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