State police improves practices, audit finds

Force no longer gets `unsatisfactory' rating, but problems remain with DNA recording

February 27, 2007|By Nick Shields and Laura Barnhardt | Nick Shields and Laura Barnhardt,sun reporters

The Maryland State Police has made progress in correcting the problems that led legislative auditors to give the department a failing grade, but a backlog in recording DNA samples could hinder efforts to identify suspects in crimes, according to a report released yesterday.

Delays in recording DNA samples from as many as 25,000 inmates were among the lingering problems identified in the latest audit from the Department of Legislative Services. Still, the state police no longer deserves the "unsatisfactory" rating it received in a 2004 audit, the new report concludes.

"I think they're making progress. I just think it's a lot to accomplish," said Del. Charles E. Barkley, a Montgomery County Democrat and a member of the General Assembly's joint audit committee. "There are still some concerns, but they've come a long way since the last audit."

Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said Superintendent Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins "worked hard to bring it up and turn this thing around. ... We're very pleased with the progress that's been made, and we'll continue to work."

`A plan in place'

Asked what the department was doing about the backlog of DNA samples, he said: "We have a plan in place to have that complete group of samples packaged and forwarded to the outside contractor by June of this year."

The most recent report, which covers a period that ended last April, also says the department had not established procedures to make sure that such information as child-support warrants and protective orders were entered by local jurisdictions into state and national databases.

It also found that the department did not make sure that background checks were performed for all gun sales.

It also found that the department failed to recover from other entities at least $4.5 million in "indirect costs," such as providing security at Motor Vehicle Administration facilities.

The study concluded that 18 of the 28 problems found in the 2004 audit - including flaws with the storage and destruction of drug evidence - have been corrected.

"Significant progress" is being made in addressing the remaining issues, auditor Bruce A. Myers wrote in a letter to the legislature's audit committee.

Auditors had found that the staff charged with overseeing the destruction of drug evidence after trial did not properly verify the contents of the boxes being destroyed, and that several employees had unrestricted access to drug evidence storage areas.

Those problems have been addressed by the department, according to the latest audit. State police have also improved the handling of confiscated cash and property, and reviews of handgun applications, the new report states.

The agency is also credited with improving its administration of grants to other law enforcement agencies. State police say that they are in the midst of addressing other problems, such as security flaws in the department's computer system.

New crime lab

The improvements have been noticed by agencies that rely on the state police crime lab. Prosecutors in Howard County had been experiencing delays in the analysis of drug evidence by the state police.

"Now it's done," said Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone, who said he had recently toured the $30 million state police crime lab, which opened last year.

He described the facility as being state of the art, but he noted that hiring forensic scientists and technicians remains a problem for the agency.

"Once they get the facility fully staffed, I think it will be a force to be reckoned with," he said.

nicholas.shields@baltsun.com laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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