The state police superintendent acknowledged yesterday that the department has failed to collect DNA samples from thousands of felons, wasted more than $100,000 on ineffective hand-held computers and failed to adequately monitor the drugs and money it collected as evidence.
Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, testifying before the General Assembly's Joint Audit Committee, agreed with nearly all the findings in a recent legislative audit and said he is well on the way to finding solutions.
The audit report also said the state police didn't properly monitor firearms dealers, failed to properly manage finances and didn't make sure that protective orders were entered into a statewide database. Many of those problems were also flagged by auditors in a report three years ago, before Hutchins became superintendent.
"Not only do I intend to fix the problems, I intend to sustain the fix," Hutchins said. "I am responsible."
Since the auditors completed their report, the backlog of uncollected DNA samples increased from 8,300 to more than 9,600, Hutchins said. But he said he has assigned more staff to collection efforts, is requesting proposals for private firms to analyze the samples and plans to work more closely with local jurisdictions and the state Department of Corrections to catch up and keep pace with new felons as they enter the criminal justice system.
He said the department is seeking grant money to pay for the effort, but he had no timeline yet for when it will catch up.
Other problems were easier to fix, he said. The department has installed surveillance cameras in its evidence room to make sure drugs or money aren't removed and will test more samples of drugs before they are destroyed to make sure they haven't been tampered with.
Hutchins said he has found 42 hand-held computers the auditors had reported as missing. The department bought the computers for troopers to use in traffic stops in response to a state law designed to prevent racial profiling of motorists. However, Hutchins said, the computers proved unsuited to the task and have been pulled from the field.
Hutchins disagreed with only one finding, which dealt with the tracking of protective orders.
The state does not check to make sure local jurisdictions enter all cases into a statewide database. The auditors said it is the state police's responsibility, but Hutchins said he doesn't have the authority to do it under state law. He said he will work with local governments to find a solution.
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, the Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the audit committee, said it's crucial the state keep better track of the orders. "It's a matter of life and death," he said.
Legislators expressed concern that the state police, as well as other state agencies, often fail to follow up on the findings of legislative audits. But McFadden said he was impressed by Hutchins' response.
"It looks as if the colonel put a lot of work into it. They really took seriously the recommendations," McFadden said. "If he says, 'I'm on the line,' I take him at his word."