The Maryland State Police have cut nearly in half a backlog in collecting DNA samples from convicts, and they have made substantial progress in correcting other problems such as lax control of confiscated drugs, according to a state audit released yesterday.
A year ago, the Department of Legislative Audits gave the state police a failing grade for fiscal accountability and compliance. But this spring, auditors found that the department had fixed or made progress on nearly all of the problems they rechecked.
The July 2004 investigation found that the state police failed to collect DNA samples from as many as 8,300 felons, a deficiency auditors said could be hampering the state's crime-fighting efforts. As of June 13, the backlog had been cut to 4,900 inmates, thanks to cooperative efforts with local governments and circuit judges and the use of limited-duty or injured troopers to collect samples, the auditors found.
As a result, 278 DNA samples have been linked to crimes under investigation in the last 2 1/2 years, compared to just 15 matches in the previous seven.
"We're not there yet, I'm not satisfied yet, but we've got the mechanisms in place," said the state police superintendent, Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins. "It's my responsibility, and I will not only fix it but sustain the fix."
However, auditors found only minimal progress in the department's effort to eliminate delays in the analysis and computer cataloging of DNA samples. Auditors found that 8,212 samples that had been collected up to a year earlier had not been sent to a private contractor for analysis. Thousands more samples had yet to return from the contractor or be entered into the state's database.
Hutchins said he is waiting for final approval for a new DNA analysis contract that will require the private lab to analyze samples within 90 days.
Other problems flagged in previous audits have been partially or completely fixed, the new report says. It found that the police have corrected problems with control over confiscated drugs and have made substantial progress in instituting proper audit procedures to make sure firearms dealers conduct background checks.
The report also says the police have made progress in ensuring that civil child-support warrants, protective orders and missing-child reports are entered into state and national databases.
Hutchins said he does not have direct control over parts of that problem because it is the duty of local agencies to enter the information into the state's database. But he said local departments have been cooperative.
Overall, the auditors concluded that the department is on the right track.
"We anticipate that, if the pace of the current effort continues for all audit report recommendations, if the recommendations implemented remain in effect, and if other areas do not deteriorate, our next audit will result in an improved accountability and compliance rating," the auditors wrote.