Police failed to follow own policies $8,000 theft was avoidable, report says

April 29, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The police department had the procedures necessary to prevent an $8,000 theft in the property department discovered last year, but did not follow them, the county auditor said yesterday.

"A review of written polices and procedures indicated many were not followed or were different from what was actually occurring," County Auditor Ronald S. Weinstein said. "In some instances, employees were not even aware of their existence."

Assistant Auditor Brenda Dean, working under Mr. Weinstein's direction, discovered last October that the directives were not being followed.

Her routine audit of the property section also turned up small discrepancies between the cash reported and the cash accounted for in several 1989 cases.

That finding that led Chief James N. Robey to assign five investigators to conduct an internal audit of the department's property records.

A property section employee has since been fired but not charged with what investigators determined to be an $8,000 theft.

"I give the police credit," Mr. Weinstein said. "They did a very tough review of their own records to 1980."

Ms. Dean's findings and stiff recommendations were included in a 10-page report released yesterday. The police department says it has implemented virtually all of Ms. Dean's recommendations.

Although the police department's investigation revealed nothing other than the cash was stolen, Ms. Dean's audit indicated that drugs, guns, and other property could have been pilfered due to the department's failure to follow its own policy and procedures.

"I agree with the report," Chief Robey said. "We have taken steps to correct all the errors noted in the report and we will continue to take steps to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Ms. Dean found during a random sample of 25 property items that should have been in the property room that money, a gun, a semi-automatic air rifle and other property items could not be located.

"All but one of the exceptions concern property that could not be located in the property room, but which, according to the property forms, should have been there," Ms. Dean said in her report. "There are hundreds of these open property forms in the files and our sample was relatively small in comparison."

Some property logged out of the property room for use as evidence in a court case was never logged back in, Ms. Dean said. And property that was supposed to have been returned to the owner, was in some instances still in the department's possession six months after it was to have returned.

Records of drugs that were to be taken to Howard County General Hospital for incineration were marked "destroyed" before destruction had occurred, she said.

"There are no strong internal controls in place to ensure that all property to be destroyed will actually be destroyed," Ms. Dean said. "As a result, it is possible that a misappropriation of these types of property items will occur and not be detected."

Ms. Dean said she has been advised by police investigators that everything but the air rifle had been accounted for.

Ms. Dean recommended that the police department institute the following procedures:

* An inspection of the property room at least once a month.

* A review of property forms, especially those over a year old, and a documentation of discrepancies.

* An annual audit by a supervisor not connected with the property section.

* Unannounced, random inspections and reviews of the property section.

* A requirement that officers provide written receipts to show that property returned owners was actually delivered.

* Maintenance of a list of all drugs earmarked for destruction and a verification that the list matches actual drugs.

* The immediate transportation of such drugs to the hospital for destruction and the verification by a supervisor that the destruction actually took place.

* The policy for the destruction of drugs shall apply also to the destruction of firearms.

Ms. Dean included the police department's response to her recommendations in her report. The department said Ms. Dean's recommendations have been followed and are now in place.

Mr. Weinstein said he will conduct a follow-up audit of the property department at a later date.

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