Audit finds police keep sloppy files 2,000 tickets said to be missing

November 08, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

For the second time in about a year, the Howard County auditor has criticized the police department for sloppy record keeping -- this time for losing track of more than 2,000 parking tickets.

The earlier audit, conducted in October 1992, uncovered an $8,000 theft in the property section. Unlike the previous audit, no theft of county money has been uncovered.

The missing tickets appear to be the result of careless handling and flawed procedures.

Nonetheless, "when a book or ticket is unaccounted for, the possibility of misappropriation of county funds increases," said assistant auditor Brenda Dean.

Ms. Dean uncovered the missing tickets while working on a routine audit of the county finance department. The finance department processes parking tickets.

Until July, parking fines ranged from $7 for an offense such as parking at an expired meter in front of the county office building to $52 for illegally parking in a space reserved for handicapped drivers. Since July, fines have nearly doubled and now range from $12 to $98.

Each officer is given a book of 50 tickets. The value of potential revenue is now between $600 and $4,900.

"It might be anticipated that a book or ticket would occasionally be lost," Ms. Dean said.

"However, when there is a continuous absence of accountability by certain individuals, further supervisory action is required," she said.

Chief James N. Robey was out of town and could not be reached for comment, but Major Mark L. Paterni, the department's second ranking officer, said in an interview that an investigation is under way.

"We don't think there was corruption going on," Major Paterni said.

"I have never had a call from anyone complaining about the way an officer issued a parking ticket or from anyone alleging any corruption. But that does not mean the potential is not there. We are taking this opportunity to remove any [such] perception."

The department has drafted a four-page memorandum that when issued next month, will spell out departmental procedures for dealing with not just parking tickets, but criminal and civil citations as well.

Major Paterni brought an eight-inch high stack of returned tickets and accompanying explanations from officers still on the force to his interview Friday and made them available for perusal.

In most instances, officers simply voided tickets when they made a mistake such as entering the wrong date or the wrong violation but never forwarded the voided tickets to the finance department.

Each book has five copies of a citation. The officer keeps one, the offender is given one, and three are sent to the department of finance.

Meanwhile, every officer with missing parking tickets has been ordered to surrender copies of the missing tickets to police investigators and include a written explanation of why the ticket was voided or missing.

It will be impossible to trace every missing ticket, however, because some were in books kept by about 20 officers no longer with the department.

"We have not been as careful [in collecting parking books] as we might have when officers resigned or were terminated," Major Paterni said, "but we have since tightened up."

New procedures have been instituted for the voiding of tickets. In the future, all tickets will be accounted for and voided tickets will be sent to the department of finance, Major Paterni said.

"In spite of our best intentions, inspections [to assure that procedures like those for issuing parking tickets are being followed] take a back seat to crime fighting needs," Major Paterni said.

"The audit helps us recognize our weaknesses and provides very good suggestions" for remedying them.

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