State police released audits yesterday showing that failures to properly log domestic restraining orders, to prevent accused abusers from buying guns, are more pervasive than officials previously acknowledged.
All of the 21 jurisdictions audited by the state police frequently failed to correctly enter the protective orders, listing the wrong gender, name or race.
The audits released yesterday were of mostly rural jurisdictions. The state police plan to begin auditing Baltimore City today.
"We are suffering from lack of staff, and I know people are tired of hearing that, but it is very much a reality," said George F. Johnson IV, president of the Maryland Sheriff's Association. "We want to address this as quickly as possible so that any violence can be avoided."
Johnson said most of the mistakes are "nonfatal" and would not result in someone obtaining a weapon.
The records show that the errors began long before two young children were fatally shot in September with a weapon police believe their father obtained because of an error by the Howard County Sheriff's Department.
An audit of that department, conducted by state police in May, showed that the staff failed to enter protective orders in a timely and accurate manner. Almost half of the 50 entries examined onsite were missing key pieces of data, such as Social Security numbers.
Sheriff Charles M. Cave said in a letter to state police after the audit that his department had made the "appropriate modifications."
Yet the restraining order against Richard Spicknall II -- which should have been entered into the state police database last December -- was erroneously deleted, allowing him to purchase the 9 mm handgun he is accused of using to kill his 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
Yesterday, Lisa Fields Spicknall tearfully testified before the House Judiciary Committee, calling for tighter regulation of the protective orders.
"I felt confident he was prohibited from owning a gun," she said. "My life has been torn apart and two innocent children are dead."
Lisa Spicknall is one of more than 17,000 people statewide -- most of them women -- who applied last year for a restraining order against a spouse or partner.
Local sheriffs and some police departments are responsible for logging the orders into state and federal databases, which state police use to check the backgrounds of prospective gun buyers.
Lisa Spicknall said she plans to dedicate her life to training "every clerk, judge and sheriff" to enter restraining orders correctly.
Even under the best circumstances, the process of entering restraining orders is cumbersome, requiring almost an hour each. In rural counties, 911 dispatchers log the orders between calls.
The state police audit released yesterday showed that sheriff's offices frequently enter the wrong name into the computer. In Washington County, an audit conducted in October 1998 found that at least 16 names in the database did not match court documents.
Several jurisdictions also confused the meaning of the words "ex parte" and "protective order." In Cecil County, protective orders, which last for one year, were being entered into the state police database as ex parte orders, which last only seven days.
Since the Spicknall killings, state police and sheriff's offices have been meeting to iron out kinks in the system.
"This situation cannot continue," Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery Democrat, said at the hearing.